Sirmilik National Park of Canada
Safety Tips for Travel
Choosing a Safe Campsite
- Avoid bear feeding areas. A polar bear's primary food source is seal so these species are often found in the
In fall, winter and early spring most polar bears are on the sea ice hunting seals by the floe edge, open
water leads and along pressure ridges. Bears and seals can also be found in places where the ice is thin
or cracked, such as tide cracks in land-fast ice or at toes of glaciers. Seals can more easily maintain
breathing holes in these areas.
In early spring, females with cubs tend to hunt along pressure ridges and cracks in land-fast ice
(particularly in bays) where seal birthing dens are found.
During the ice-free summer season, when polar bears are forced ashore, they generally hunt and scavenge
along coastlines, beaches and rocky islands near the coast.
- Stay away from polar bear den sites. Unlike other bears, there is no time when all polar bears are inactive
Maternity dens are excavated by pregnant females in snow drifts on leeward (wind protected) slopes of
coastal hills and valleys. In the Baffin Region, dens can be found at high elevations on snowfields and
glaciers. Maternity dens are occupied from fall to early spring. The dens are inconspicuous, however, bear
tracks leading to and from the site in early autumn or late spring or ventilation holes can indicate
Temporary dens are excavated in snow drifts or pressure ridges by polar bears (males, females and females
with cubs) that are active over the winter. The dens can be used as resting places or as temporary shelter
from bad weather. They can be used from a few days to several months.
Summer retreat dens are excavated during the open water season in the remaining snow banks or into the
permafrost. These can also be at higher elevations on snowfields and glaciers or the valleys leading up
to them. Male and female bears of all age groups use them to keep cool and avoid insect harassment.
- Avoid camping on beaches, islands, along coastlines and on "bear highways".
Before making camp, look around for tracks. Polar bears often travel along coastlines using points of land
and rocky islets near the coast to navigate.
In the summer, blowing sea ice may transport polar bears into coastal areas. Avoid areas where the pack ice
is blowing in to shore.
Valleys and passes are often used to cross peninsulas and to move from one valley to another.
Polar bears travel and hunt along the edges of ice floes
- Camp inland on a butte or bluff with a good view of surrounding terrain.
Avoid areas where bears might hide, such as blind corners, snow banks, pressure ridges and other places
with visual impediments.
- Set up tents in a line rather than a circle and maintain at least 5 metres between them.
If a bear comes into camp, it will not feel surrounded and will have an avenue of escape without feeling
threatened. Keep watch 24 hours per day. Take turns keeping watch during sleeping periods.
- Do not sleep in the open without a tent.
You may look like a seal and polar bears are very curious. People sleeping in the open have been attacked.
- Cook at least 50 metres from your sleeping area in a place visible from your tent.
Strain food particles from dishwater and store with garbage. Dump dishwater at least 50 metres from your sleeping area, rivers, streams and lakes.
- Store food and garbage in bear-proof containers or sealed bags and containers secured under rocks within view of your tent.
Placing pots on top may serve as an alarm. If you have a warning system, store your food within its perimeter. DO NOT store food inside your tent.
Reducing the threat posed by a polar bear during an interaction may be difficult. Non-lethal deterrents have been developed for black and grizzly bears but they have not been thoroughly tested on polar bears and, therefore, they cannot be depended on to ensure safety. The best way to live safely with bears is to avoid contact with them. Any potential weapon should be considered, such as skis, poles, rocks, blocks of ice or even knives.
Stay together as a group. This can be a deterrent and actions, such as making noise, jumping, waving arms, throwing things, may help to drive a polar bear away.
- Noisemakers including air horns, pistol and pen launched bear bangers may scare a bear away.
- Pepper spray may work on polar bears, but has not been thoroughly tested. Be aware that pepper spray does not work when cold. Also be aware of wind direction to avoid having the spray blow into your face.
- Know how and when to use these deterrents and practice beforehand.
- Availability of commercial deterrents is limited in the north, most will have to be purchased elsewhere and transported as dangerous goods.
- Contact Parks Canada for more information.
- Set up a portable trip-wire or motion detector alarm system around your tent to alert you if a polar bear approaches your camp. Before leaving home, contact Parks Canada for more information.
- You may wish to take a dog, but only one that has proven experience with polar bears. Several dogs are better than one. Know how to handle them. Keep them staked so they cannot run to you for protection and stake them downwind from your sleeping area. Be sure to clean up any dog food leftovers. Dogs must be under control at all times within national parks to avoid wildlife harassment.
- Designate a bear monitor to keep watch if a polar bear might be nearby. Consider moving your camp if there is a bear in the area.