Troopers identify polar bear mauling victims
By Diana Haecker
The victims of last week’s polar bear attack in Wales were identified as 24-year-old St. Michael resident Summer Myomick and her one-year-old son Clyde Ongtowasruk.
Alaska State Trooper spokesperson Austin McDaniel said that the polar bear attacked and killed Myomick and her baby when they walked between the school and the clinic, in strong winds and blowing snow.
According to an AP report, school employees tried to help and ran outside, trying to scare away the bear with shovels, but the bear turned on them and they rushed back into the school.
Calls for help went out to the community and an unidentified person shot the bear as it still mauled mother and son.
Weather hampered response
Poor weather conditions persisted and the lack of runway lights in Wales prevented Alaska State Troopers and Alaska Department of Fish and Game personnel from making it to Wales that day. The FAA weather station at Wales had not reported online from November 17 until 1 p.m. on January 18. The weather on Jan. 17 at Tin City from the DoD automated weather station showed blizzard conditions and north winds 45 to 55 mph. When the weather station at Wales started to report again in the afternoon of Jan. 18, winds were north 10 mph and visibility was unrestricted with mostly clear skies, conditions that allowed a trooper and a representative from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Nome office to travel to Wales to investigate. The remains of mother and son were transported to the State Medical Examiner’s Office for autopsy, troopers said.
“ADF&G joined the Alaska Troopers to assist in Wales, because our biologists were available and in closer proximity than USFWS staff,” wrote Kristen Romanoff, Assistant Director, Division of Wildlife Conservation with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in an email to the Nugget, clarifying the ADF&G’s involvement. U.S Fish and Wildlife Service is the federal agency managing polar bears. “All work is being done in coordination with USFWS,” she said.
Joseph Jessup McDermott, executive director of the Alaska Nannut Co-Management Council said that portions of the bear carcass were flown out to be necropsied. “The main thing is to figure out if there is anything about that bear that caused that kind of behavior,” McDermott said, adding that it is not normal behavior for a polar bear to chase people.
A joint statement by the Alaska Nannut Co-management Council, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said that their immediate priority is supporting the community and the families of the victims in the wake of this tragedy. “We do not know what may have caused or contributed to this incident, but we are working together to gather facts, information, and circumstances surrounding the incident,” the statement says. “As more information comes to light, we will work collectively with our other partners, such as the North Slope Borough with their expertise in human-bear conflicts, to learn from this tragedy and determine what future measures we and our communities can take to prevent future fatal human-bear encounters.”
Other communities were on alert as polar bears were sighted near villages. In Little Diomede, a Facebook post warned of a rather large polar bear spotted on the sea ice not far from the community.
In Shishmaref, tracks of a polar bear female and cub were seen on the dump road, putting residents on alert.