A Polar Bear Attacked and Killed Two People in Northwestern Alaska
A mother and her one-year-old son died after being mauled in the coastal town of Wales
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A community in Northwest Alaska is reeling after a woman and her one-year-old son were mauled to death by a polar bear on Tuesday afternoon.
According to a report by the Alaska Department of Public Safety, the incident occurred in Wales, a coastal village of 150 residents located on the westernmost tip of the Seward Peninsula. An initial report said a polar bear entered the town and chased multiple residents before fatally attacking an adult woman and a child near the school building.
On Wednesday, officials revealed the identities of the victims: 24-year-old Summer Myomick and her one-year-old son, Clyde. Both live in Saint Michael, Alaska.
Local residents eventually shot and killed the bear “as it attacked the pair,” officials said. According to the release, officials with the Department of Fish and Game plan to travel to Wales to investigate the attack, once weather allows for travel.
Polar bears usually inhabit the pack ice and coastal regions north of the arctic circle, and in winter they migrate south via ice floes in search of food. Recent research suggests that the loss of ice in the Arctic Sea due to climate change is creating an ecological disaster for the bears, which prefer living and hunting on ice sheets. The bear population in some areas is decreasing—elsewhere, bears are now forced to spend more time on land foraging for food than normal. A study published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation stated that the bears’ shift from ice to land could increase the possibility for bear-human conflicts in the future.
“As polar bears have increased their duration onshore during the summer months in the Alaska, residents have expressed the challenges they face to keep their communities safe,” the report said.
Despite this shifting habitat, polar bear attacks on humans are still extremely rare in Alaska. The Anchorage Daily News cited two instances in the last 35 years: in 1993 a bear broke into an Air Force radar station and mauled a mechanic, who survived. In 1990 a bear killed a man in the village of Point Lay. In 2018 a fatal attack occurred in Canada on Hudson Bay when a bear killed 31-year-old Aaron Gibbons. The bear reportedly stalked Gibbons’s two daughters before the attack occurred—both the girls escaped unharmed.
Wales is predominantly populated by the Inupiat people, who are indigenous to Northwestern Alaska. In 2018 photographer Kiliii Yuyan participated in the annual Inupiat whale hunt near the town of Utqiagvik. During the hunt, Yuyan was stalked by a polar bear, and members of the hunting party eventually shot and killed the animal as it charged the group. In a 2021 episode of The Outside Podcast, Yuyan hypothesized that the bear—which appeared to be hungry and suffering from an infection in its teeth—may have viewed humans as a last resort for food.
“A polar bear attacking a group of ten grown men—that’s not something it would do unless it was desperate,” Yuyan said. “Polar bears may be king of the sea ice, but they know better than to go after that many people.”