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Wayward polar bear settles into new territory

Posted: Wednesday, October 23, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A wayward polar bear has made itself at home more than two weeks after it was found wandering along the Dalton Highway far from its habitat in the Beaufort Sea.

The bear has been seen dining on caribou carcasses left by hunters along the highway and was even spotted chasing a small herd of musk ox.

The bear was first seen at Pump Station 3 on Oct. 5, more than 100 miles from the Beaufort Sea.

Pump station worker Kari Lamothe watched the bear Sunday as it lumbered up the highway heading north. At one point, the bear took off after a half dozen musk oxen that were loitering near the road.

''He followed them a little bit and then stopped, watched them for a minute, sniffed around and walked back to the road,'' Lamothe said. ''It was awesome.''

News of any polar bear sightings travels fast on the Dalton Highway, Lamothe said.

''If you have a CB (radio) you know where he's at,'' she told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''He's a pretty hot topic up here.''

The bear visited a Department of Transportation maintenance station a few miles south of the pump station on Oct. 7. The last sighting before the bear's Sunday stroll up the Dalton Highway was on Oct. 11, when it was seen gnawing on a caribou carcass a few miles from the pump station.

The latest report had the bear scavenging a caribou gut pile a few miles north of Pump Station 3, Lamothe said.

Whether or not the bear is heading home to the Beaufort Sea pack ice remains to be seen. This is the longest inland move by a polar bear ever documented by biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska. Trying to predict what the bear will do next is a tricky proposition, said Scott Schliebe.

Biologists speculate the bear might have strayed south because the pack ice in the Beaufort Sea was farther off shore this fall than it has been in the last 50 years. The ice was almost 300 miles offshore from Barrow at the end of September.

But the pack ice is now closing in rapidly and bears will soon begin to wander out onto the ice to hunt for food, Schliebe said.



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