Tour Guide Who Sees A Polar Bear Struggling To Swim Immediately Springs Into Action

For residents of Kaktovik, Alaska, seeing a polar bear wasn’t unusual—heck, it was pretty much a daily occurrence! In the town of roughly 300 people, located within the Arctic Circle on the northernmost coast of the state, polar bears were as abundant as squirrels in a New York City park. But that led to some unique complications…

See, every year, tourists flocked to Kaktovik to see the polar bears in person. For safety reasons, they were often guided by the local Inuit peoples—trained men and women who knew how to handle every part of the unforgiving environment. But one day, while out on a tour, one of these groups got much more than they bargained for!

In the summer of 2015, an Inuit tour guide named Rolan Warrior brought tourists to the Beaufort Sea barrier island just outside his home city of Kaktovik, Alaska. There, the travelers hoped to see something incredible: polar bears.

Wild Alaska Travel

More specifically, the southern visitors wanted to glimpse a wild polar bear, an important part of the ecosystem in Kaktovik, up close and personal. For anyone who didn’t spend their time in the Arctic Circle, that would be a completely foreign sight.

Arctic Kingdom

The best—or worst—part about the day trips led by Rolan and other Inuits was that you never knew what was going to happen. In that line of work, danger was never far. No one learned that better than Rolan’s tour group, who saw something unforgettable…

Kaktovik Tours / YouTube

Out in the freezing Arctic waters, village guests got what they wished for: a large male polar bear—called a nanuq by the local Inuit tribe—was lingering in the water not far from shore. But something was wrong…

National Geographic

Tourists fell into complete shock when they saw that the polar had become entangled in a fishing net meant for catching beluga whales and was struggling to keep from drowning! They had to help the poor animal. But how could they?

Flora Rexford, a Kaktovik resident and teacher, described what happened next to The Anchorage Daily News: “My dad and mom got into their boat,” she began. She described how, along with the man who owned the net, her parents raced towards the bear.

Your Alaska Link / YouTube

But trying to subdue a powerful bear frightened for his life sounded like the first step towards an early grave. The trio knew better—so they waited for the U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lend a hand.

Your Alaska Link / YouTube

From a helicopter circling above, the biologists tranquilized the struggling polar bear with a dart. Only then could Flora’s parents and the net’s owner get close enough to the bear to make a rescue.

Packer Expeditions

While the tranquilizers took effect, the trio in the boat did their best to keep the polar bear from sinking under the surface of the frigid waters. Then, carefully navigating the icy waters, the rescuers tried moving the big guy to shore—but that was tough!

Your Alaska Link / YouTube

Polar bears are extremely heavy animals, after all, and an adult male can weigh a minimum of 1,200 pounds! This guy certainly wasn’t helping the Inuits carry much of his dead weight, either, what with being knocked out.

Your Alaska Link / YouTube

It was especially challenging for this group of hopeful rescuers because they had to keep the polar bear’s head above water the entire time—a tough task on its own, since the bear was clearly exhausted.

Your Alaska Link / YouTube

After a long struggle, the trio finally hauled the polar bear on to the shore. Dazed and exhausted, he sprawled out on the rocky beach. Luckily, some local biologists showed up and were ready to examine the bear. How badly was he hurt?

U.S. Geological Survey / Facebook

Right away, they removed the net from the still-sedated polar bear; then, they checked him for any injuries, both internal and external. To their relief, he had avoided suffering anything serious.

U.S. Geological Survey / Facebook

With the net removed and the bear injury-free, the Inuits and biologists allowed the animal to return to the wilderness. “I guess it ended up swimming out toward the sea,” Flora said after the grateful animal was freed. And it was a good thing, because this was more than just a bear rescue!

On the surface, this looked like a simple rescue. Those who lived among polar bears and interacted with them regularly protected them, too. So why was this any different? Well, the senior director of conservation of Polar Bears International, Geoff York, offered some insight…

The Uproar

“From rescue to conflict reduction efforts, Northern communities play an important role in the conservation of polar bears,” Geoff said. “They are on the ground 24/7 and have important experience and perspectives passed down from generations untold.” But that wasn’t all…

Geoff continued: “It’s great to see local people and scientists come together to solve a clear problem. In this time of unprecedented change, we need more collaboration across the Arctic and across groups.” In other words?


While this rescue may have affected only one polar bear, the Inuits acted in a way that was be crucial to preserving the species as whole. At the time of the rescue, prospects for polar bears as a species looked quite grim…

Wild Alaska Travel

From 2001 to 2010, the polar bear population in southern Beaufort Sea—the water just north of Alaska—declined from 1,500 to 900. That’s a whopping 40 percent! So that one bear’s safe rescue made quite an impact on the species!

Your Alaska Link / YouTube

Thanks to the biologists and the Inuit trio, at least one more polar bear would be trotting around in the Alaskan snow, waiting for a traveler to see him in all his white-furred glory! Just watch this polar bear’s miraculous rescue below…

When people work together to save a life, it benefits an entire community—both for humans and animals alike!

Share this amazing rescue with your friends below!

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