Aklak - Grizzly bear
Grizzly bears are commonly seen along the coast in the autumn, when they search for berries, ground squirrels, and other food before hibernation. Tracks, pits, and other signs of digging for Arctic ground squirrels indicate their presence, though they are usually seen only at night. Community warnings about problem bears are posted and troubling bears are shot, with the meat shared around the community.
Polar bears were an important source of food for the men and dogs of the Northern Party. Some of the many bears shot were made into specimens and sent to Ottawa. Two bears cubs collected by Natkusiak at a whale carcass near Kellett Base in December 1914 were made into museum skins by Wilkins and survived the long journey to Ottawa. In 1934 they were mounted by the National Museum taxidermist and became part of a polar bear diorama which lasted from 1940 to 1969. One of these cubs is now on loan to a travelling exhibit on climate change, opening in Quebec City in 2003.
Polar Bear skull, Cape Bathurst, NWT, November 12, 1914.
"Shot by Mike [Siberia]"
- Pointstream Version (418 Kb)
"Saw a large Polar Bear swimming in the sea about 2 miles west of Baillie Island. We turned about 400 yards out of our course to run close to him and every camera on board...took snap shots at him. The bear swam almost as fast as the ship went (about 6 miles per hour) and piled the foam up ahead of beam, leaving a wake like a steam boat" (R.M.Anderson Diary, August 1916).
The short-tailed weasel or ermine (Mustela erminea)
has a wide distribution in the northern hemisphere. In North America it is found
throughout Alaska and all of Canada except parts of the Prairies. The species'
range extends throughout the Arctic islands, north to the Arctic coast of Ellesmere
Island and northern Greenland. In the North American Arctic this weasel is also
known by several variations of the local name, e.g., tigiak, tegiak, tereak, tiriak,
The ermine's summer coat is a chocolate brown above with a creamy-white underside. In northern regions, the entire coat is white in winter, except for the tail, which is tipped with black in all seasons. The average length is between 236 and 272 mm. Males are generally larger than females. Weasel breed in April, with the young being born in May, depending on latitude.
In the north, their main prey species are brown and varying lemmings, and nestling birds, especially snow buntings. Although there is little information, it is likely that they also prey on young Arctic ground squirrels and young Arctic hares. They may be important in controlling lemming population cycles. Although never locally abundant, they are widespread throughout the Arctic.
Well-adapted to life on snow, ermine travel on the snow surface and also burrow under the snow and use runways made by lemmings. With good colour and night vision, ermine are primarily nocturnal, and the low light of Arctic winter likely causes no hardships. Remaining active during the winter, ermine obtain their prey, mainly lemmings, by pursuing them in their burrows. Ermine often take over the burrow of their prey species and winter nests are found lined with masses of lemming fur. Excess food may be cached for later use, particularly in fall and winter.
Ermines are in turn hunted by wolverine, Arctic and red foxes, and snowy owls. Weasel skulls are often found in snowy owl pellets. Ermine show little fear of humans and may become established in and around camps. Their rapid and erratic movements however make them a difficult subject for photography.
Although weasels were not prominent in traditional Native use
in North America, their skins were used to decorate clothing. The Copper Inuit
of the western Canadian Arctic highly prized ermine skins for use on their ceremonial
dancing caps and suspended them from the back of
their coats as charms for luck in hunting or against sickness.
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