A father from the northern Canadian territory of Nunavut was mauled to death while protecting his children from a polar bear on July 3, Canadian police said.
The man, 31-year-old Aaron Gibbons, was out for a walk with his children and some other community members on Century Island when it happened, a family member told The Toronto Star.
“When they were on the island walking around ... a bear surprised them,” Gibbons' uncle Gordy Kidlapik told the paper. “The bear had started to stalk the children.”
Police said the attack happened about 10 kilometers from Arviat, a small town of about 2,600 people.
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"What (Aaron) did was he told his children to run away to the boat while he was putting himself between the bear and his children to protect them," the uncle told the Canadian Press. The children were able to make it safely to a boat and call for help on a radio.
"We actually heard the call for help," Kidlapik told the Canadian Press. "It was terrible to listen to."
Another community member was able to kill the bear, and Gibbons was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
"Definitely Aaron died a hero, he protected his children," Gibbons' cousin Eric Anoee told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. "It's [the] right word to say right now."
Daniel Pimentel, an official with the territory’s Department of Environment, told the Toronto Star the last time a polar bear killed someone in the area was 18 years ago.
“It has been a very long time since the last polar bear attack resulted in human fatality,” he told the paper. “They’re very uncommon in Nunavut.”
Anoee told the CBC Gibbons was a capable hunter who loved spending time with his kids. "We are still in shock but we are resilient and we will go on and continue as a community," he told the station.
Kidlapik mourned the loss of his nephew on Twitter, and called out the business Churchill Wild, which provides polar bear tours, saying getting the bears acclimated to humans was dangerous. "It may have been one of these bears that killed my qangiaq," he wrote, using the Inuinnaqtun term for nephew, according to the Winnipeg Free Press.
“Right now, we do not have a comment or position on the tours just because we don’t know if it is a direct result (or) what kind of impact it had,” Pimentel told the Toronto Star.
Anoee told the CBC living with polar bears was part of life in the area.
"We're in bear country and Inuit long ago up to today have coexisted with polar bears and we have the utmost respect to these animals and it's hard sometimes but we manage," he told the network.
The Arviat Royal Canadian Mounted Police are continuing to investigate the attack alongside other agencies and will try to find a reason for why the bear behaved the way it did, according to the Canadian Press.