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Homeward bound: Lost dog returns home after surviving epic 150-mile journey across Alaskan sea ice

Nanuq, a 1-year-old Australian shepherd, went missing in Savoonga, a St. Lawrence Island community in the Bering Strait, and was found weeks later in the Alaskan city of Wales, with about 150 miles of sea between the two locations.
/ Source: Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A 1-year-old Australian shepherd took an epic trek across 150 miles of frozen Bering Sea ice that included being bitten by a seal or polar bear before he was safely returned to his home in Alaska.

Mandy Iworrigan, Nanuq’s owner who lives in Gambell, Alaska, and her family were visiting Savoonga, another St. Lawrence Island community in the Bering Strait, last month when Nanuq disappeared with their other family dog, Starlight, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The dog disappeared a month ago from St. Lawrence Island, Alaska, and wound up walking on the Bering Sea ice about 150 miles to Wales, Alaska, on the state's western coast.
Nanuq, a 1-year-old Australian shepherd, was returned to Gambell, Alaska, on April 6. Mandy Iworrigan / AP

Starlight turned up a few weeks later, but Nanuq, which means polar bear in Siberian Yupik, was nowhere to be found.

About a month after Nanuq disappeared, people in Wales, 150 miles northeast of Savoonga on Alaska’s western coast, began posting pictures online of what they described as a lost dog.

“My dad texted me and said, ‘There’s a dog that looks like Nanuq in Wales,’” Iworrigan said.

She reactivated her Facebook account to see if it might be her wandering hound.

“I was like, ‘No freakin’ way! That’s our dog! What is he doing in Wales?’” she said.

The events of Nanuq’s journey will likely always be a mystery.

“I have no idea why he ended up in Wales. Maybe the ice shifted while he was hunting,” Iworrigan said. “I’m pretty sure he ate leftovers of seal or caught a seal. Probably birds, too. He eats our Native foods. He’s smart.”

She used airline points to get her dog back to Gambell on a regional air carrier last week, a charter that was transporting athletes for the Bering Strait School District’s Native Youth Olympics tournament.

Iworrigan recorded the happy reunion when the plane landed at the air strip in Savoonga, with both her and her daughter Brooklyn shrieking with joy.

Except for a swollen leg, with large bite marks from an unidentified animal, Nanuq was in pretty good health.

“Wolverine, seal, small nanuq, we don’t know, because it’s like a really big bite,” she said.