On patrol for bears in Greenland

Using binoculars to scan the shore for polar bears in Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland.

Every morning in August and September, a patrol officer surveys the land and coast of the tiny eastern community of Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland. He’s on the lookout for dangerous, and increasingly numerous, visitors – polar bears.

This polar bear patrol is one of many around the Arctic, from Alaska to Russia to Canada. Since 2006, the patrols have monitored polar bears around Arctic communities, frightening them away when necessary. WWF has provided patrols with training and equipment, ensuring that the patrollers are effective and safe.

The coast of Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland, is polar bear habitat. © WWF-Denmark

Ittoqqortoormiit is one of the most isolated places in Greenland, and home to the newest polar bear patrol. This month, the first polar bear of the season came to town – a three-metre long male polar bear. The patrol successfully scared the bear away, and it didn’t return.

Although Ittoqqortoormiit lies above the Arctic Circle, conflict with polar bears is a relatively new problem. The warming climate and receding sea ice mean polar bears have less opportunity to hunt seals. Instead, they are forced to spend more time looking for food on land, and communities are an appealing source of food.

WWF’s Kaare Winther Hansen speaks with a resident of Ittoqqortoormiit about the increase in polar bear conflict. © WWF-Denmark

“When I was a kid, we never saw polar bears in this area”, reported one 64-year old resident. “Now we have to polar bear-proof our cabins. Last spring, polar bears smashed all our windows.”

Residents are also hoping to discourage bears from coming into town in the first place. WWF is working with the municipality to better manage the community’s garbage so the bears will look elsewhere for food.

Learn more about how WWF is keeping people and polar bears safe around the Arctic.