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Tour Guide Who Sees A Polar Bear Struggling To Swim Springs Into Action



For residents of Kaktovik, Alaska, the sight of a polar bear wasn’t unusual — it was practically a daily occurrence. In the small town made of up nearly 300 residents, polar bears roamed in abundance. This made the town a popular tourist destination.

Every year, tourists flocked to Kaktovik in hopes to see these polar bears in the wild. Due to the inherent dangers, they were often guided by the local Inuit peoples—trained men and women who knew how to handle navigating through the harsh, unforgiving environment. But one day, while out on a tour, one of these groups got much more than they bargained for.

In the summer of 2015, an Inuit tour guide named Rolan Warrior brought tourists to the Beaufort Sea barrier island just outside his home city of Kaktovik, Alaska. There, the travelers hoped to see something incredible: polar bears.

The tourists specifically wanted to see a polar bear up close and personal in its natural habitat—the wild. For anyone who didn’t spend their time out in the Arctic Circle, that would be a completely unique experience.

The best—or worst—part about the day trips led by Inuits was that you never knew what was going to happen. In that line of work, danger was always lurking around the next corner. No one understood that better than Rolan’s tour group, who witnessed something unforgettable that day…

After venturing out into the freezing Arctic waters, the tourists’ wish came true. A large male polar bear—called a Nanuuq by the local Inuit tribe—was lingering in the water not far from shore. But they quickly noticed something wasn’t right…

The village guests we’re completely shocked when they realized that the polar had become entangled in a fisherman’s net meant for catching beluga whales. He was struggling to keep from drowning! They knew they had to help the poor animal, but how could they?

Flora Rexford, a Kaktovik resident and teacher, described what happened next to The Anchorage Daily News:

“My dad and mom got into their boat,” she began.

She explained how her parents rushed towards the bear, along with the fisherman who owned the net.

But trying to subdue a powerful bear who was frightened for his life seemed like an impossible feat. So the trio waited for the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lend a helping hand.

Using a helicopter, the rescuers tranquilized the struggling polar bear with a dart. Only then could they get close enough to the bear to continue with the rescue.

As the polar bear became more and more drowsy from the tranquilizer, the trio in the fishing boat were faced with another challenge—keeping the polar bear from sinking beneath the surface of the freezing waters. They began carefully navigating the icy waters as the rescuers tried pulling the big guy to shore—but that wasn’t easy!

Polar bears are extremely heavy animals – an adult male can weigh a minimum of 1,200 pounds! This guy certainly wasn’t helping the Inuits carry much of his dead weight, either, due to being sedated.

It was especially challenging for this group of hopeful rescuers because they had to keep the polar bear’s head above water the entire time—a tough task on its own, since the bear was clearly exhausted.

After a long, diffult struggle, they finally pulled the polar bear on to shore. He was exhausted and dazed, sprawling out on the rocky beach to recover. Luckily, a few local biologists showed up to examine the bears injury. How badly was he hurt?

They immediately removed the net from the still-sedated polar bear. Then, they checked him for any internal and external wounds. To everyone’s relief, he had avoided suffering any serious injuries.

With the net removed and the bear free of injuries, the Inuits and biologists allowed the animal to return to the wilderness.

“I guess it ended up swimming out toward the sea,”

Flora said after the thankful animal was freed.

On the surface, this looked like a simple rescue. Those who lived among polar bears and interacted with them regularly protected them, too. So why was this any different? Well, the senior director of conservation of Polar Bears International, Geoff York, offered some insight…

“From rescue to conflict reduction efforts, Northern communities play an important role in the conservation of polar bears,” Geoff said. “They are on the ground 24/7 and have important experience and perspectives passed down from generations untold.”

But that wasn’t all…

Geoff continued:

“It’s great to see local people and scientists come together to solve a clear problem. In this time of unprecedented change, we need more collaboration across the Arctic and across groups.”

In other words?

While this rescue may have affected only one polar bear, the Inuits acted in a way that was crucial to preserving the species as whole. At the time of the rescue, prospects for polar bears as a species looked quite grim…

From 2001 to 2010, the polar bear population in southern Beaufort Sea—the water just north of Alaska—declined from 1,500 to 900. That’s a whopping 40 percent! Meaning the successful rescue of just this one bear made quite an impact on the species.

When people work together to save a life, it benefits an entire community—for both humans and animals alike!


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