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Polar Bears Find Sanctuary Near Alaskan Village

As climate change shrinks their natural habitat, polar bears are turning the Alaskan village of Kaktovik into their very own sanctuary city.

A young polar bear prepares to feast on the remains of a bowhead whale, harvested legally by whalers during their annual subsistence hunt, just outside the Inupiat village of Kaktovik, Alaska on Sept. 11, 2017.

The rise in global temperatures is having a very real, and very devastating, effect on Arctic ice formation, diminishing its scope and delaying its seasonal buildup. That scarcity means Alaskan polar bears can’t reach their traditional hunting grounds until later in fall.

Land-bound and hungry, 60 of these predators have learned to gather outside the village, feasting on the scraps from the annual hunt. 

Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE

The baleen from a bowhead whale.

The hunt is deemed vital for the community, providing thousands of pounds of food as well as a direct link to the Inupiat's cultural identity.

Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE

A mother polar bear and two of her cubs gather on a barrier island after feeding on the remains of a bowhead whale.

 

Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE
A sign welcomes visitors to the Inupiat village of Kaktovik, Alaska. Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE
Polar bears gather on a barrier island. Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE
A mural outside a private home depicts whales and polar bear. Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE
A polar bear plays in the water. Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE

A young polar bear eats the remains of a bowhead whale.

Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE
A cemetery in the tundra. Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE
Polar bears play in the water. Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE
Five family members pile onto an all-terrain vehicle. Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE

Polar bears gather on a barrier island.

When the bears come, so do camera-toting tourists, floating on small guide boats a few hundred feet offshore. 

Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE

Residents saw pieces of whale.

After residents carve and distribute the meat and blubber, a front loader carries what remains of the carcass to a bone pile at the far end of town.

Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE
A polar bear walks along a sand spit. Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE
A front loader washes a bowhead whale. Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE
Polar bears feast on the remains of a whale. Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE
A front loader dumps the unusable remains of a bowhead whale. Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE

Polar bears prepare to feed on the remains of a whale.

Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE
A polar bear walks along a sand spit. Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE
A polar bear rolls in the dirt on a barrier island. Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA-EFE