Alaska village experiences boom in polar bear tourism
Juneau, Alaska – A tiny Alaska Native village has experienced a boom in tourism in recent years as polar bears spend more time on land than on diminishing Arctic sea ice.
More than 2,000 people visited the northern Alaska village of Kaktovik on the Beaufort Sea last year to see polar bears in the wild, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported Monday.
The village had less than 50 visitors annually before 2011, said Jennifer Reed, of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“Today we’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of visitors, many from around the world each year,” Reed said.
Polar bears have always been a common sight on sea ice near Kaktovik, but residents started noticing a change in the mid-1990s. More bears seemed to stay on land, and researchers began taking note of more female bears making dens in the snow on land instead of on the ice.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists began hearing reports of increasing numbers of polar bears in the area in the early 2000s, Reed said. As more attention was given to the plight of polar bears about a decade ago, more tourists stated heading to Kaktovik.
Most tourists visit in the fall, when bears are forced toward land because sea ice is the farthest away from the shore. Some bears become stranded near Kaktovik until the sea freezes again in October or November.
The fall is also when residents of Kaktovik kill three bowhead whales. Bruce Inglangasak, an Inupiaq subsistence hunter who offers wildlife viewing tours, said residents were unsure how tourists would react to whaling.
“The community was scared about, you know, activists that was going to try to get us to shut down the whaling – subsistence whaling,” Inglangasak said. “But that’s not true.”