POINT LAY, Alaska -- A polar bear killed a man out for a stroll with his girlfriend in an unprovoked attack in a remote northwest Alaska village in the first such attack in recent memory, federal officials said Sunday.
The bear dragged the man's body away and a search party followed a trail of blood and tracks for about an hour until they found the bear sleeping by the partially-eaten body. The bear was shot and killed by a Point Lay teacher.
'We have not seen a fatal encounter with a polar bear in modern times in the Alaska arctic,' U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Bruce Batten said in Anchorage.
Point Lay is an Eskimo village with a population of about 130 on the Chukchi Sea coast of northwest Alaska, more than 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
The victim of the attack was Carl Stalker, 28, of Point Lay, said North Slope Borough public safety dispatcher Suzanne Drew in Barrow.
Stalker and his girlfriend were out walking about 4 a.m. Saturday when they encountered the bear, who went after them. The couple split in two directions - the woman ran home for help and the bear caught the man.
The attack happened inside the villiage limits and was unprovoked, said James Christensen, director of Public Safety for the North Slope Borough.
Northern Alaska has a population of about 4,000 polar bears, many of them moving along the arctic coast at this time of year searching for food, Batten said. Females are in their ice-and-snow dens, but male polar bears do not hibernate and prowl the arctic ice all winter hunting for seals or other animals to eat.
Alaska Eskimo hunters kill about 100 polar bears every year, using the meat and the hide, but Batten said villagers have co-existed with the giant white bears with little problem.
'They've pretty much learned to live with the bears,' he said. 'It's not like the bears come raging out in the winter looking for people to eat.'
The bear's body was flown to Barrow for examination. Biologists will perform a necropsy on the bear to find out if it was a hungry male that went after what it took to be prey or whether there was something wrong with the animal.
'The bear was hungry enough to eat,' Batten said, choosing his words carefully when asked what the bear did once he caught the man.
Polar bears are aggressive and have no enemies in the arctic, other than man. They also are curious and, to survive the harsh winter, investigate any movement in the still arctic as possible food, Batten said.
'There is talk in polar bear lore,' Batten said, 'that the polar bear is the only bear that would stalk a human. There is very little going on out there in the arctic in winter and any movement the bear would probably check out.'
Earlier this season, an Eskimo walrus hunter shot and killed an approaching polar bear in self-defense in the village of Wainwright, up the coast from Point Lay, Batten said.
Villagers on Alaska's arctic coast are often warned in winter to watch out for polar bears on the prowl.