Lost Dog Ventures Across Bering Strait to Safety — 240Km Away

A month on the sea ice in the Bering Strait is a tall order for any animal. Leave it to humankind’s best friend to pull it off in style.

That’s what Nanuq, a one-year-old Australian shepherd, did in March. The adventurous dog left home in Gambell on St. Lawrence Island and didn’t turn up for quite awhile. When he finally did, he was little the worse for wear — and very far away.

The saga began with a family trip to nearby Savoonga, just a few miles down the St. Lawrence coast from Gambell, the Anchorage Daily News reported. Owner Mandy Iworrigan and her children were visiting the town when Nanuq and another family dog, Starlight, disappeared.

Starlight showed up a few weeks later, but Nanuq stayed missing. Then in early April, social media posts that showed a suspiciously familiar-looking canine had surfaced in Wales, Alaska.

map showing the distance between wales and gambell

Wales to Gambell is a serious trek. Photo: Screenshot


“My dad texted me and said, ‘There’s a dog that looks like Nanuq in Wales,”” Iworrigan told the Daily News.

As soon as she saw the photos, she knew it was Nanuq.

“I was like, ‘No freaking way! That’s our dog! What is he doing in Wales?'” she said. “I have no idea why he ended up in Wales. Maybe the ice shifted while he was hunting.”

Locating Nanuq — which means polar bear in both Inuktitut and Siberian Yupik — was one thing. Getting him back to Gambell where he belonged was another. Wales perches on the Seward Peninsula, 240km away from Gambell. There’s no good way across the sea ice in March, and no direct flights from Wales to St. Lawrence Island.

But ingenuity and networking took over. Iworrigan found that a prop plane was scheduled to bring a group of Wales schoolchildren to the island for a Native Youth Olympics event, the Daily News said. From there, it was a matter of finding Nanuq a crate and getting him on board.

Suffice it to say, it was a happy homecoming. Each of Iworrigan’s children cares for their own dog, and their closeness with their four-legged friends is sibling-like.

As for Nanuq, he arrived with a few battle wounds. A swollen leg showing bite marks could have come from an encounter with just about any animal that roams the sea ice — seal, polar bear, or even a wolverine — but the injuries weren’t doing any damage to the pup’s cheerful disposition.

How’s that for a Homeward Bound story?

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.