Story last updated at 12:26 p.m. Friday, September 6, 2002

Polar bear gathering raises concerns
A passel of polar bears made its way recently to Barrow to gnaw on some old whale bones in a dump 12 miles outside town.

While polar bears are not uncommon in the area, this many all at once -- as many as 50 were reported -- are a rarity, said Lt. John Data of the North Slope Borough Police Department.

While no one is sure what is causing the gathering, Borough Wildlife Manager Craig George said an explosion in the population of ring seals in the area may be drawing the bears.

"I'm sure that had something to do with it," he said.

Early last month, a wind storm packed floating ice against Point Barrow and the nearby barrier islands, which may have concentrated the bears that were already in the area, George said. Scott Schliebe, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the bear population is no larger than it has been.

"(It) leveled out about 20 years ago and has stayed at about the same level ever since," he said. "Once they were protected and had time to recover from over-hunting, the population increased to a certain level and has remained at that plateau."

The bears have been making their way into town. George advised residents to use caution.

"It is usually the bear you don't see that is most dangerous," he said. "The one that comes up behind you when you are watching another bear."

--The Arctic Sounder