Polar bear that killed Alaska mother and her son

Summer Myomic bundled her baby up against the icy winds whipping across the Bering Sea and stepped out into a blur of snow. It was a short walk from the school where she had visited her relatives to the health clinic some 150 meters away, but the young mother could barely see where she was going, or the approaching terror.

Myomick, 24, and her son, Clyde Ongtowasruk, 1, made it past the Kingikmiut School in Wales, Alaska, just below the Arctic Circle, when a polar bear emerged from the impenetrable snowstorm and the mutilated. Tuesday. It was the first fatal attack by a polar bear in 30 years in Alaska, the only US state that is home to the animals.

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As the attack unfolded, the director ordered a lockdown and closed the blinds so that the children could not see what was happening outside the entrance. Several employees and community members left the safety of the building and tried to chase the bear away with shovels.

The mistreatment stopped temporarily, but only when the animal turned on them and they rushed inside. Principal Dawn Hendrickson closed the door in the face of the charging bear, possibly saving lives, according to Susan Nedza, chief administrator of the Bering Strait School District.

“The polar bear was chasing them and tried to get in as well,” said Nedza, who received desperate calls about the attack in Unalakleet, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) away. “Just horrible… Something you never thought you would experience.”

There are no law enforcement in Wales so with the bear still out there, a call was sent out to members of the community for help. A person who has not been identified appeared with a gun and killed the bear as it continued to attack Myomic and his son.

It appears the mother and toddler had no idea what was ahead due to poor visibility, Alaska State Police spokesman Austin McDaniel told The Associated Press Thursday.

The immediate family was living at the school temporarily while they fixed electrical problems at their home, according to a post on a GoFundMe site set up to help the family “in the face of unfathomable tragedy and heartbreak.”

“We ask that you respect her privacy at this time of immense grief,” the post read.

According to the post, a memorial service will be held in Wales, followed by a funeral at St. Michael’s.

A whaling community, Wales is the westernmost point of the North American mainland, just 50 miles from Russia across the Bering Strait, and is home to about 150 people, almost all of them Inupiat. It is accessible by plane and boat, including barges that deliver household items. Winter trails provide snowmobile access to other communities and subsistence hunting grounds.

Kingikmiut School, like other schools in many rural Alaska Native communities, also functions as a community center. The view from its front, where the attack occurred, is an endless expanse of frozen snow and ice to the horizon.

Nedza, the school district’s lead administrator, said she received a distraught call from Hendrickson shortly after 2 p.m. Tuesday. She said the students were locked up and secure.

The blizzard camouflaging the bear, coupled with a lack of runway lights at the Welsh gravel airstrip, prevented Alaska State Police from bringing an officer and a Nome State Wildlife Officer to investigate until on Wednesday.

It is not known what prompted the attack. However, polar bears view humans as prey, said Geoff York, senior director of conservation at Polar Bear International.

Samples were taken from the bear for the state veterinarian, and the bodies of Myomic and her son were airlifted to Nome for eventual transport to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Anchorage.

School was canceled on Wednesday so students could be with their families, and the school district flew counselors to Wales. The school planned soft openings Thursday and Friday with no classes but opportunities for students to meet with counselors, eat or play, Nedza said.

Alaska scientists from the US Geological Survey in 2019 found that changes in sea ice habitat had coincided with evidence that land use by polar bears was increasing and that the chances of a encounter with a polar bear had increased.

Polar bears are the largest bear species, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Males typically weigh between 600 and 1,200 pounds, but can reach over 1,700 pounds and up to 10 feet in length. Females weigh from 400 to 700 pounds. Polar bears generally prey on seals, but also walrus and beluga whales.

They were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008 and are also protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Both laws prohibit unauthorized harm to animals unless necessary for human safety.

The last fatal attack by a polar bear in Alaska occurred in 1990, the Anchorage Daily News reported, and biologists later said the animal had shown signs of starvation. Three years later, a polar bear mauled a mechanic at an Air Force radar station, but the 55-year-old victim survived, the newspaper reported.

More recently, in 2018, a 31-year-old father was killed by a polar bear while protecting his children in Canada. That same year, the Norwegian authorities said that a polar bear was shot dead after he attacked and injured a guard taking tourists off a cruise ship in an arctic archipelago.

The polar bear species in a fight for survival due to the disappearance of the Arctic sea ice.

In 2021, scientists in Norway discovered that polar bears were inbreeding while the species struggles to survive. One study found that in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, polar bear populations have experienced a 10% loss in their genetic diversity between 1995 and 2016.

A 2020 study found that melting sea ice is starving polar bears, and that within a century, polar bears could be extinctand decreasing genetic diversity increases the risk of extinction.

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