The 250 residents of the remote town of Kaktovik, Alaska, have grown accustomed to living on the edge of the wilderness, but even they had to be a bit surprised at all the ursine visitors that came calling last month. In mid-September, the sleepy little community found itself over run with a record number of polar bears who came looking for food while they wait for the return of the pack ice.
Located above the Arctic Circle, the people of Kaktovik routinely supplement their meager supplies with an annual whale hunt, which provides meat for the lean winter months. Following the hunt, the carcasses of the whales are left on the beach for predators and scavengers to pick clean. Typically this attracts numerous polar bears that are looking for an easy meal, but this year there were far more bears than normal. On September 13, observers counted 80 polar bears in total, which broke the old record for the most spotted in a single day. The previous record of 65 was set back in 2004.
Researchers believe that it could be more than just the promise of a free meal that brought so many polar bears together at the same place and time. This summer saw the Arctic ice melt at an unprecedented level, which may have forced more of the creatures to head to solid ground while they waited for temperatures to drop and the ice to return. Unlike most animals, polar bears actually eat more regularly in the winter and look to their fat stores to get them through the leaner summer months. Any time they can get an easy meal it is a cause to congregate.
Lucky for the bears, the ice began to form once again on September 16 and now has started to thicken and spread across the Arctic Ocean. That means the animals will soon be able to head north once again, leaving Kaktovik behind for anther year.
[Photo credit: Loren Holmes]