ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Annie Rumbolt and her husband Lawrence now sleep with a big game hunting rifle in their bedroom after becoming the latest survivors of polar bear encounters in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Pack ice conditions unusually close to shore have prompted several polar bear warnings in coastal communities, and two bears were shot dead in the last week.
RCMP on Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula issued another warning Thursday after a bear was spotted in an area of snowmobile trails and cabins between Roddickton and Plum Point.
Rumbolt, 59, woke with a start early Tuesday to see the shadow of a large polar bear just outside her open bedroom window in St. Lewis, Labrador.
Her husband, 63, got a massive fright when he came face to face with the unwelcome visitor, she said.
"He could see the polar bear out in the window so he went over," she said from St. Lewis, population 200.
"He was that handy to it — I mean just looking out through the window, he could see his nose opening and closing as he was smelling. He was right up in his face."
Rumbolt says it's not unusual to see polar bears in the region at this time of year, but she has never had an experience like that. The wayward animal wandered back to the water and swam off as her husband yelled at it, but not before it swiped a chunk off the couple's snowmobile seat.
"If another one comes around our home again, we've got permission to shoot it," Rumbolt said. "When you're asleep in the nighttime and it comes up to your bedroom window or in through your door, what can you do?
"They're lovely animals but they're not nice to look at that close."
Wildlife officers shot a bear a week ago after it damaged several homes and killed livestock in Goose Cove, and police killed another one Tuesday when it got too close to homes in Greenspond in northeastern Newfoundland.
Shannon Crowley, a senior biologist with the provincial Environment Department, says the bears are tracking pack ice and seals that are especially close to shore this year around northern Newfoundland.
He said the bears are part of the Davis Strait population which is not considered endangered. It was estimated at about 2,200 bears six years ago, up from the most recent survey more than 20 years earlier.
Abundant harp seals, which make up much of the Davis Strait polar bear diet, may help explain those numbers, Crowley said in an interview. However, that particular population is still considered vulnerable because of potential effects of global warming on sea ice, he added.
"There is a true public safety concern," Crowley said of the recent spate of onshore sightings and incidents.
"Polar bears just don't have fear of many things in the environment that they're in. They've been known to come right up when icebreakers are coming through ... put their front paws on it and sniff, just check it out. They're very curious.
"Ideally, in most situations, they just move on their way. But in some cases they may decide to hang out, and that becomes a public safety issue."
RCMP Cpl. Robert Holland, stationed in northeastern Newfoundland, said the decision to shoot a polar bear is made with wildlife officers and only if absolutely necessary.
"The bears are tracked, trapped or put down only as a last resort," he said in an interview. "These are natural animals going about their business.
"We avoid contact with them and just ask people to stay the heck away from them if they ever see one."
Polar bears dominate the food chain as a fierce predator known to stalk humans, Holland said.
"Generally, they're regarded as a very dangerous bear."
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