Transcript for Alaskan town's polar bear problem leads to tourism boom
For centuries polar bears have been an enduring symbol of the area but recently they've begun to change their habitat. Many descending on a small remote northern alaskan island. We went there during peak bear season to find out why they're being pushed closer and closer to civilly saying and what it means for the entire planet. Our journey into the arctic wild begins by boarding this small plane in Fairbank, Alaska. And, yes, we have just crossed the arctic circle. Have no radio communication with the outside world right now. Definitely a first for me but this is spectacular. Wow, we finally made it. Chilly, right? Our destination the isolated island villages of kaktovik, Alaska, the population just 239. Home sweet home a stark and striking landscape but not quite the snow blanketed mountains you might expect from the arctic. A change that is reaching into all corners of life here as we are about to see. We head out and soon find what we came for. We left the shore three minutes ago and already there are four polar bears right there swimming in the water. That's incredible. Wow. I mean, what are we, 50 feet from them? We're pretty darned close. A mother with her triplets. ??? so cute. These bears a drab shade of brown wearing the signs of spending so much time on muddied land. Wow. Polar bears' natural environment is out on the sea ice where seals are plentiful but in summer the ice melts forcing the bears to forage for food on land. The bears used to spend just three weeks on land. But today they are stranded for nearly three months because the ice is staying melted longer, scientists say it's due to global warming. Local resident Robert remembers the old days. When I first came here, the pack ice was inside of the shore all summer. That's why we had a lot of polar bears here. Their habitat is going away. I don't know if they'll make it. This beautiful population is now down from 1200 to 900 in the last ten years. The world should be interested in this. Reporter: Their forced proximity treacherous. This bear rummaging through garbage. Another peering into a window. Our boat captain Bruce once got too close jumping foo his car for safety. Is that the most frightened you've ever been in your life? Yeah. I would think so. Our own close encounter came late that night. My producers and I first caught a glimpse of the stunning northern lights. It's unbelievable. Then the sound of dogs barking. Yeah, that makes me a little nervous. A warning that polar bears aren't far off. Let's go inside, guys. That's enough. We heard some dogs barking so we'll stay close to this door. Lows are now used to the bears. Good attraction for all the tourists. To us they're a nuisance. Reporter: Marie were is a witness to the changes by rising temperatures. They can smell your good food anywhere. Most people have firearms just in case. We try to scare them off before anything else. They had broken down our door to our cellar. That is food for the community. Reporter: A village at the top of the world. 30 years ago you could see ice in the ocean. There's none now. Reporter: The front line of a changing planet. There is momma polar bear with her two cubs. Not that far from us. Once in a lifetime. Wow. And we are happy to report the ice has finally come back up there. The polar bears are now once again living on it but researchers spoke to say being away from the ice and natural food source the seals for so long is causing them to become smaller sending them into the winter weaker. Oh, no. They just don't belong where they were. We could tell you were scared when you heard those dogs. When we heard the dogs we were told you're supposed to stay in a 360 formation so you look at all sides. It's not the polar bear you see but the one you can't see. They can run 25 miles per hour and have to be on guard the entire time you're in that area. Disturbing and amazing. Thank you very much. Especially -- will we have much more. "Nightline." Yes, thank you for that plug. You can see much more of our journey on a special edition of "Nightline." That is going to be next week,
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