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The increasingly late freeze-up of sea ice on Hudson Bay has forced one Arctic community to take new measures to protect itself from the growing number of polar bears roaming its streets. Bears have always been common around Arviat, along the western shore of Hudson Bay. The hamlet is on the bears' migration route as they return to their sealing grounds on the floe edge of Hudson Bay after spending the summer on shore.
But sightings of the fearsome predators — known to stalk and kill humans — have become increasingly common over the last few years in the community itself. Bear sightings in Arviat are probably increasingly because the warming Arctic means Hudson Bay freezes over later and later. This means the bears have been around for a longer period of time.
In 2010 bears had to wait until early December to hit the ice — weeks later than usual. And because they eat little during the summer and must live off the fat from the winter's seal hunting, those bears are hungry.
Although Arviat has long used watchmen to warn children and adults when a bear is visiting, it was becoming clear that something more was needed.
This fall, the Nunavut government and the World Wildlife Fund tried various methods of protecting the population including wire mesh, steel crates and Electric Fencing. The underlying effort is not to just deter the bears when they get there, but to try to ensure they're not being attracted into the community. The program cost less than $100,000 and aspects of it are being tried in other Nunavut communities such as Igloolik and Hall Beach, but Arviat — perhaps the one most heavily visited by polar bears — is where it has been implemented most heavily.
The whole program is to be assessed over the winter months and more concrete proposals and methods arrived at.
The Western Hudson Bay population is estimated at about 1,000 bears and is considered in decline.