Quebec Provincial Police are warning residents of a polar bear sighting in the area of Madeleine-Centre, Que., on the northern coast of the Gaspé peninsula.
The mayor of Sainte-Madeleine-de-la-Rivière-Madeleine said he was alerted about the situation on Saturday morning, after a friend of his sent him photos of the bear and one of its footprints.
“It’s been a funny day. I’ve been wondering how a polar bear could get there, it’s a bit early for an April Fools’ joke,” Joël Côté said while speaking to Radio-Canada.
The animal was last seen near the site of the former airport in the area, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) said.
Sophie Bonneville told Radio-Canada that she spotted the bear near her home after her dog Boris alerted her. Quebec wildlife officials were contacted soon after.
“My partner was shovelling and Boris went on the run because, well, he doesn’t stand for anything on our land, not even a crow,” Bonneville said. “It looked at the dog, it wasn’t afraid.
“After looking at my partner he turned to go back into the woods.”
They have yet to confirm if it is in fact a polar bear, and continue to search for tracks to determine where it has gone.
“There’s a photo where you can clearly see the bear, and it’s white. In terms of colour, it’s the right colour,” Côté added. “I’m not a specialist.”
Officers with the SQ are going door to door to advise residents in the area to stay inside.
Police are asking anyone who sees the animal not to approach it and to call 911 immediately.
A rare but not impossible visit, biologist says
Dominique Berteaux, a biologist and professor at the Université du Québec à Rimouski, is placing his bets on it being a polar bear.
Polar bears found in the spring on the east coast of Labrador move north when the pack ice breaks up, Berteaux said, but noted that sometimes bears can get lost. They’re also fantastic swimmers, he said.
“The Inuit consider it a marine mammal,” Berteaux said. “According to the scientific literature, there is nothing exceptional about bear crossing 100 or 200 kilometres while swimming.”
Earlier this month, polar bears were spotted more than 200 km to the north, across the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, in the area of Baie-Johan-Beetz. A polar bear was also recently spotted near the Innu community of Unamen Shipu on the Lower North Shore, which is already south of the animal’s normal habitat.