Polar Bear Kills Mother, 1-Year-Old in Alaska

A polar bear chased several residents around a tiny, remote Alaskan native village on Tuesday, with fatal results.

The bear pursued and caught a mother and her one-year-old son, killing both in the extremely rare attack. Another resident shot and killed the bear afterward.

The incident occurred just outside the school in Wales, an indigenous Bering Strait community located about 90km from Russia, according to Alaska public safety officials.

Alaska State Troopers identified the dead as 24-year-old Summer Myomick of Saint Michael and her son, Clyde Ongtowasruk.


Residents of Wales are familiar with polar bear encounters, the Anchorage Daily News wrote. So school officials rushed people inside the building when someone spotted the bear, school administrator Susan Nedza told the outlet.

map showing the location of Wales, Alaska

“The bear tried to enter with them,” Nedza later told the Associated Press, but Principal Dawn Hendrickson “slammed the door” to keep it out. “It’s terrifying. Not something you’re ever prepared for.

Bad weather and a dark runway at the Wales gravel airstrip initially prevented troopers and wildlife officials from investigating the attack. But they made it on Wednesday and discovered that Myomick and Ongtowasruk were walking between the school and a clinic when the bear attacked them.

Authorities transported the remains of the mother and son to the State Medical Examiner’s Office for autopsy.

Myomick’s parents declined media requests for comment.

Polar bear encounters increasing

A predominantly Inupiaq village of roughly 150 people, Wales arranges organized patrols when polar bears are likely to show up. That’s from roughly December to May, said Geoff York, the senior director of conservation at Polar Bear International.

Unfortunately, the patrol was not active at the time of the attack due to a reported funding shortage. Joseph Jessup McDermott is the executive director of the Alaska Nannut Co-Management Council, which represents tribes that hunt polar bears for subsistence.

He told the AP the Wales patrol “essentially lost what funding it had.” The organization has been working with the World Wildlife Fund and other partners to restore the patrol program, McDermott said.

While encounters between humans and polar bears can happen frequently, attacks are rare. The last fatal polar bear encounter in Alaska occurred in 1990. And a study by The Wildlife Society found that only 73 attacks occurred throughout Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia, and the United States from 1870-2014.

However, the U.S. Geological Survey more recently determined that changes in sea ice have prompted polar bears to increase their range, raising the chances of an encounter.

alaska polar bear attack

Sea ice in Svalbard. Photo: Shutterstock


The bear in question belonged to a population in the Chukchi Sea that is faring well amid climate change, University of Alberta polar bear expert Andrew Derocher told the AP.

So attractants in Wales such as food or garbage could be to blame for the attack.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson spent his 20s as an adventure rock climber, scampering throughout the western U.S., Mexico, and Thailand to scope out prime stone and great stories. Life on the road gradually transformed into a seat behind the keyboard, where he acted as a founding writer of the AllGear Digital Newsroom and earned 1,500+ bylines in four years on topics from pro rock climbing to slingshots and scientific breakthroughs.