Ruby Kaleak was at her part-time job on Kaktovik’s roving “polar bear patrol” Friday when a whispery call came over the VHF radio.
“Qanitchaq, nanuq,” was all she could hear: arctic entryway, polar bear.
“They didn’t say where or who,” Kaleak said. “I thought that one of the young boys in town was pulling a prank.”
Kaleak and her co-worker hopped in the Ford pickup they use when on patrol. Among their other equipment is a 12-gauge shotgun with beanbag and firecracker slugs to haze polar bears away from people in the Inupiat village of 300.
They found a house near the lagoon that they suspected the call might have come from. It was about 11 p.m. and dark.
“We parked and looked all over for bears,” Kaleak said. “I myself was about to jump out of the truck and go check inside the arctic entryway.”
Just then, she saw a shadow. From inside the entryway, the head of a polar bear popped up. Its body filled the doorframe.
“I was shocked. It was humongous,” Kaleak said. “Just the neck and head was half the size of me, and I’m 5 (feet) 2 (inches ).”
It had broken into 81-year-old Betty Brower’s entryway and was gobbling a drum of seal oil, said Brower’s granddaughter, Flora Rexford.