He Felt the Polar Bear's Tooth on His Eye

Elijah Kaernerk recalls terrifying attack in Nunavut, Canada
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 18, 2021 7:25 AM CDT
He Felt the Polar Bear's Tooth on His Eye
Anana a Polar Bear walks in his enclosure at the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak, Mich.   (Detroit Zoological Society via AP)

Few people know the feeling of a polar bear tooth pressing onto one's eye. Elijah Kaernerk is unfortunately one of them. He'd been warned that a polar bear was nearby while traveling with his partner and sister-in-law to his cabin near Sanirajak on Foxe Basin in Nunavut, Canada, on Aug. 10. Soon after their arrival, he peered around a corner and spotted the bear munching on a carcass. Unfortunately, it spotted him, too. "It growled, and left the food … then it stood up and started running towards me," Kaernerk, an Inuktitut speaker, tells CBC News. It launched an attack before turning toward Kaernerk's partner. Kaernerk says he managed to stand and head toward the bear, who chased and eventually caught him. "I can hear the cuts going in, and I can feel the teeth punching through," he says. "Then it let me go, then started approaching the others."

Kaernerk says he was attacked three times in between attacks on his two companions, whom he tried to protect. At one point, he felt a tooth on his eye. "It must've opened its mouth," he says. "It bit me on my neck and I blacked out." Community members fatally shot the bear. The three victims—described as badly injured, per CTV News—were taken to a local health center, then flown to larger hospitals. This follows two fatal polar bear attacks in the region in the summer of 2018, one of which occurred on Foxe Basin. A 2017 study found 47 polar bear attacks on people across the Arctic from 1960 to 2009, but 15 from 2010 to 2014, when sea ice hit was at its lowest. That's "the greatest number ever recorded in a four-year period," per Yale Environment 360. "With more polar bears driven ashore as the sea ice melts, the chances for encounters increase," per Polar Bears International. (More polar bear stories.)

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