Killer bear was starving


ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A polar bear that killed a man in an Alaska village over the weekend was starving, scientists said Wednesday, giving rise to worries that more hungry bears could be prowling the arctic coast.

No fatty tissue was found on the bear, which was tracked down and shot after it attacked and ate a man who had been walking through the village with a female companion.


Nothing was in the bear's intestinal tract and its stomach contained only human remains, Ben Nageak, director of wildlife management for the North Slope Borough, said from Barrow.

Normally, bears fatten up to survive the winter, but this 8-foot- tall, 572-pound male appeared emaciated, Nageak said.

The permanent arctic ice pack was farther from shore this fall -- the ice has since come in -- and that probably made it harder for the bears to prowl the ice edge for seals, said Gerald Garner, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service polar bear biologist.


Although Saturday's fatal attack was the first polar bear killing of a human in memory in Alaska, poor hunting conditions may mean there are more hungry bears out there than usual, Garner said.

'There may be more bears in poor condition and more susceptible to hunting humans,' he said.

The federal wildlife agency, which has responsibility for polar bears, knows less than it might about the condition of the animals this winter because two biologists conducting research disappeared in October during a population survey.

'Because of ... losing our people surveying bears, we don't have any information on the condition of bears,' Garner said. Two of the agency's five polar bear biologists and their pilot vanished some 200 miles north of Barrow. An intensive search turned up no trace of the men or their plane.

The loss of the scientists also meant lost data that might have offered more clues about what happened early Saturday in Point Lay and why.

Carl Stalker, 28, was walking through the village of 130 people with his female companion, eight month's pregnant with the couple's child, when the bear attacked. The woman ran for help, but the bear caught Stalker and ate him. A rescue party found the bear at Stalker's remains and shot it.


The necropsy conducted in Barrow revealed 'no fat in the bear,' Nageak said, 'especially in the heart area. Fat reserves in the heart are the last to go.'

Although it appears that the bear was starving, its head was sent to scientists in Fairbanks for further study to see if there might have been something abnormal with the animal.

Despite the bad hunting conditions, attacks on humans are extremely rare. But Garner said bears normally wonder through Alaska's northern coastal villages and are opportunistic hunters.

'Some bears are good hunters and some bears are not good hunters,' said Garner, and the killer bear may have been a bad hunter.

Polar bears have killed six people in the Canadian arctic since 1965. The Soviets have reported no fatal polar bear attacks and although Alaskans have killed polar bears in self-defense, this was the first known fatal polar bear attack in modern times.

About 2,000 polar bears live along the Beaufort Sea coast in Alaska and Canada and another 3,000 live along the Chukchi Sea coast of Alaska and the Soviet Union.

'There's a little more tension in villages now,' Garner said, noting that residents are going out well-armed and with flashlights in the winter darkness.


But Nageak said, 'Life goes on in the arctic. The arctic is very harsh. We have animals here that are dangerous. You are always nervous outside, but anybody who lives here knows you have to be careful.'

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