Following a polar bear attack in Northern Canada on Friday, a man and woman were in stable condition while some considered climate change as a probable cause.
Churchill, Manitoba is a town on the shore of Hudson Bay, also known as the polar bear capital of the world. Many tourists visit to try to catch a glimpse of the planets largest terrestrial carnivore, but two residents got a much closer view than anyone would want.
Around 5 a.m. local time, two pedestrians had just left a house in town and were surprised by a young polar bear. “It was right in town,” said RCMP spokeswoman Tara Seelm. One of the two, a 30-year-old woman in Churchill as a seasonal worker for the tourist season, was the initial focus of the attack and her screams prompted neighbor Bill Ayotte to run out of his house with a shovel.
Ignoring the shovel, the bear turned its attention to Ayotte, according to Mitch Paddock, who rushed out once he heard the commotion. “He was on his back, the bear was right on top of him with both paws,” said Paddock.
The bear dragged Ayotte around, and smashed both paws on him repeatedly. Paddock ran to get a gun that shoots off a kind of firecracker, and after several attempts to scare off the huge bear, he glanced it with a shot, which gave the bear pause. Another neighbor drove at it with their car, honking the horn, and that was what finally got the polar bear to leave.
Ayotte and the woman were taken to the hospital with multiple lacerations — the woman was released on Sunday while Ayotte remained.
The attack happened several hours after trick-or-treating wrapped up for local children. The town actually monitors the area for bears with a helicopter and tries to keep them away with emergency vehicles’ flashing lights on Halloween. The bears are usually returning to their winter pack ice habitats over Hudson Bay around this time of year.
Yet recently, this return has been delayed by “increasingly late formation of the sea ice caused by climate change.”
Doug Webber, a neighbor who has lived in Churchill for 50 years, said that there have only been “a handful” of polar bear attacks while he lived there. A bear chased a resident and swiped at him with a paw in September.
Steven Amstrup, chief scientist for Polar Bears International told the Guardian that it is likely polar bear attacks will become more frequent as there is less and less sea ice:
The number of bear-human interactions, bear-human conflicts, may be somewhat on the rise. We have predicted in no uncertain times that as bears become hungrier as the sea ice absence period is longer, more and more of these animals are going to be venturing into communities, venturing into villages, raiding food caches, getting into garbage, and even attacking people. So we predict these kinds of events are going to be more frequent and more severe because of climate change.
A recent study concluded that “anthropogenic increases in greenhouse gases have led to unprecedented regional warmth.”
Manitoba Conservation tracked down the animal ended up shooting and killing two polar bears following the attack.