IGLOOLIK, Nunavut — An Inuit hunter armed only with a hammer saved at least one of his friends from an attacking polar bear.
David Arnatsiaq and four friends took their snowmobiles about 20 minutes outside the Nunavut hamlet of Igloolik on Wednesday to retrieve some igunaq, cured walrus meat considered a delicacy by the Inuit. Arnatsiaq had learned polar bears had found the cache and were enjoying the treat themselves.
“The bears have been eating it, so we decided to get it all; otherwise, we have nothing left,” said Arnatsiaq, 58.
The five rode out in dim twilight, as the sun never really rises in Igloolik at this time of year. Knowing there were bears around, the first thing the group did when it got to the site was look around.
“As we were getting the meat out, I checked around,” Arnatsiaq said.
“Everybody took turns. We were aware that something might happen.”
A mother bear, followed by two nearly grown cubs, emerged from the shadows beside the snowmobiles. She began moving toward one of Arnatsiaq’s companions, an Inuit wildlife officer.
The party had two rifles. One was in a sled, beside which stood the two bear cubs. The other gun was about five metres from the officer. The bullets, however, were in the officer’s pockets.
Arnatsiaq knew he had to distract the bear from the officer.
“He was the only one with the bullets. Without him, we can do nothing. In order to save him, I had to get the polar bear mad at me.”
The only thing he could grab was a hammer from his snowmobile’s glove box.
“I took the hammer and put it in her mouth and pulled it to make her get mad at me instead of going after him. He was the only one with the bullets. Without him, we can do nothing. I had to do something.”
The bear reacted by moving into the pit where the meat had been stashed, brushing by Arnatsiaq.
“It didn’t bite, just pushed me just to see how much I would probably weigh.”
But then Arnatsiaq moved and the bear came howling out of the pit right at him. “When the bear went after me, it caught up to me right away,” Arnatsiaq said. “What I did was face-to-face. I knew it wouldn’t bite. Bears don’t bite you right away unless you’re down.
“I went for her ear, so I could grab the ear and pin her down. But I missed the ear because, when I went for her head, she turned her back so I couldn’t reach. I had my hand on her shoulder and she had her paw on my shoulder and we were fighting.
“I had a hammer in my hand. After her nose touches my face, I put my right hand (with the hammer) into her mouth right away. That’s when I got up, so she knows I am going to go after her. I started kicking and hitting her with a hammer again.”
Finally, the wildlife officer got some bullets into the rifle.
The battle with all three bears ended shortly thereafter.