Polar Bear Encounters
Each encounter with a polar bear is unique.
Good judgement, common sense, and familiarity with polar bear behaviour are required in all situations. This information provides guidelines for avoiding and dealing with polar bear encounters. For your safety and the safety of the bears, please read this section carefully and seriously consider the risks involved with travel in polar bear country.
Avoiding an Encounter
- Ask Parks Canada staff about current bear activity. Some areas may be closed due to bear activity; obey written and oral warnings.
- Be alert and aware of your surroundings. Scan all around with binoculars at regular intervals. Be vigilant! Watch for signs such as tracks, droppings, diggings, wildlife carcasses and polar bear dens.
- Travel in daylight and avoid areas of restricted visibility. Be especially careful in areas along the coast, where a polar bear may be hidden behind boulders, pressure ridges (pushed up sea ice), driftwood or vegetation.
- Travel in groups and stay together to increase your safety. The larger the group the greater the chances of deterring a bear.
- Never approach a bear for any reason. Every bear defends a "critical space", which varies with each bear and each situation: it may be a few metres or a hundred metres. Intrusion within this space is considered a threat and may provoke an attack.
- Never approach a fresh kill or carcass as polar bears will defend their food. Adult polar bears will often only eat the fat of seals and other kills, but other bears may scavenge from these carcasses.
- Never feed bears or any wildlife. A bear that finds food from a human source begins to associate humans with food. This can result in the bear losing its natural tendency to avoid people and becoming persistent in its search for human food. The consequences for you and the bear can be serious. A bear that associates food with humans is more likely to injure people and these bears may have to be relocated or killed.
- Pack out all garbage and use sealed bags and containers or bear-proof canisters to store food and garbage.
- Eliminate or reduce odours from yourself and your camp. Avoid using scented soaps and cosmetics and avoid bringing strong smelling foods.
- Consider hiring a guide if you are uncertain about your ability to deal with polar bears. Ask about their experience, how they will avoid encountering a polar bear and about plans of action should you encounter a bear. A larger group can also increase safety, ask about the size of group.
Handling an Encounter
- Before your trip, discuss possible plans of action for dealing with bears in a variety of circumstances and be sure everyone understands. The actions of each individual either contribute to or detract from the safety of everyone else.
- Stay calm and assess the situation. What is the bear doing? What is the bear's behaviour?
If a bear does not know you are there:
- quietly back away and leave the area either in the direction you came or by making a wide detour around the bear. Do not run, move quickly, or make motions that might attract the bear's attention.
- stay downwind, if possible, so the bear cannot smell you and detect your presence
- keep an eye on the bear.
If a bear knows you are there and shows signs of being curious, such as:
- moving slowly with frequent stops
- standing on hind legs and sniffing the air
- holding its head high with ears forward or to the side
- moving its head from side to side
- trying to catch your scent by circling downwind and approaching from behind
- help it to identify you as a human
- wave your arms over your head and talk in low tones
- move slowly upwind of the bear so it can get your scent.
If the bear has been surprised at close range or shows signs of being agitated or threatened, such as:
- huffing, panting, hissing, growling or jaw-snapping
- stamping its feet
- staring directly at a person
- lowering its head with ears laid back
- act non-threatening. Do not shout or make sudden movements, which might provoke the bear. Never huff or hiss as this can cause a polar bear to charge.
- avoid direct eye contact.
- back away slowly. DO NOT RUN.
- be prepared to use deterrents
If the bear shows signs of stalking or hunting you, such as:
- following you or circling you
- approaching directly, intently and unafraid
- returning after being scared away
- appears wounded, old or thin
- fight back! Use any potential weapon, group together and make loud noises.
- DO NOT RUN!
- be prepared to use deterrents
If a bear charges:
- stand your ground and be prepared to fight! Bluff charges are rare.
- never get between a bear and her cubs. If a female with cubs is surprised at close range or separated from her cubs she will likely attack to defend her cubs.
- leave the area immediately
- stay in a group
- fight back if she attacks
- always leave an escape route for the bear.
- carry deterrents and know how to use them.
If a female with cubs is surprised at close range or separated from her cubs she will likely attack to defend her cubs.
In Case of an Attack
Please follow this emergency check list:
- STAY CALM and call for help by radio or satellite phone. (Get contact numbers during your orientation to the park).
- Report location and time of incident.
- Report number of people involved.
- Report extent of injuries and property damage.
- Check that all people in the group are accounted for.
- Report numbers and last locations of all polar bears involved in the incident.
- Report reason for the attack if known (Female protecting cubs, surprise, defending food source, etc.).
- Report description of bears (male or female, size, markings, etc.)
- Stand by to provide additional information to rescuers.
Please report all polar bear sightings and signs to park staff, as soon as possible.