Tiny Alaska vil­lage ex­pe­ri­ences boom in po­lar bear tourism

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FEATURES - The As­so­ci­ated Press In­for­ma­tion from: KTOO-FM, http://www. ktoo.org

A tiny Alaska Na­tive vil­lage has ex­pe­ri­enced a boom in tourism in re­cent years as po­lar bears spend more time on land than on diminishing Arc­tic sea ice.

More than 2,000 peo­ple vis­ited the north­ern Alaska vil­lage of Kak­tovik on the Beau­fort Sea last year to see po­lar bears in the wild, Alaska’s En­ergy Desk re­ported Mon­day.

The far north com­mu­nity is lo­cated on north shore of Barter Is­land on the Beau­fort Sea coast in an area where rapid global warm­ing has sped up the move­ment of sea ice, the pri­mary habi­tat of po­lar bears. As ice has re­ceded to deep wa­ter be­yond the con­ti­nen­tal shelf, more bears are re­main­ing on land to look for food.

The vil­lage had less than 50 vis­i­tors an­nu­ally be­fore 2011, said Jennifer Reed, of the Arc­tic Na­tional Wildlife Refuge.

“To­day we’re talk­ing about hun­dreds and hun­dreds of vis­i­tors, many from around the world each year,” Reed said.

Po­lar bears have al­ways been a com­mon sight on sea ice near Kak­tovik, but res­i­dents started notic­ing a change in the mid-1990s. More bears seemed to stay on land, and re­searchers be­gan tak­ing note of more fe­male bears mak­ing dens in the snow on land in­stead of on the ice.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice bi­ol­o­gists be­gan hear­ing re­ports of in­creas­ing numbers of po­lar bears in the area in the early 2000s, Reed said. As more at­ten­tion was given to the plight of po­lar bears about a decade ago, more tourists stated head­ing to Kak­tovik.

Most tourists visit in the fall, when bears are forced to­ward land be­cause sea ice is the far­thest away from the shore. Some bears be­come stranded near Kak­tovik un­til the sea freezes again in Oc­to­ber or Novem­ber.

The fall is also when res­i­dents of Kak­tovik kill three bow­head whales. Bruce Inglan­gasak, an Inu­piaq sub­sis­tence hunter who of­fers wildlife view­ing tours, said res­i­dents were un­sure how tourists would re­act to whal­ing.

“The com­mu­nity was scared about, you know, ac­tivists that was go­ing to try to get us to shut down the whal­ing — sub­sis­tence whal­ing,” Inglan­gasak said. “But that’s not true.”

Inglan­gasak said he’s been of­fer­ing po­lar bear tours since 2003 or 2004.

Most of his clients are from China and Europe, as well as from the Lower 48 U.S. states and ar­rive in Ka­tovik on char­ter planes from An­chor­age and Fair­banks.

Many tourists stay sev­eral days in the vil­lage, which has two small ho­tels, Inglan­gasak said.

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