Safety in polar bear country (PDF, 1.1 MB)

Avoid bear feeding areas.

A polar bear’s primary food source is seal so these species are often found in the same places.

  • 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 can be found anywhere but they generally hunt and scavenge along coastlines, beaches and rocky islands. Keep an eye on the ocean, polar bears are often well hidden when swimming.

Stay away from polar bear den sites.

Unlike other bears, there is no time when all polar bears are inactive in dens.

  • 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 their presence.
  • 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 obvious movement corridors.

  • Before making camp, look around for tracks or other signs of bear activity.
  • 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 or islands and to move from one area 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. A permit is required to set up a food cache. 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.

Warning systems

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.

« Handling an encounter


For more information:

Auyuittuq National Park and
Quttinirpaaq National Park

Box 353
Pangnirtung, NU X0A 0R0
PHONE: 867-473-2500
E-MAIL: nunavut.info@pc.gc.ca

Sirmilik National Park
Box 300
Pond Inlet, NU X0A 0S0
PHONE: 867-899-8092
E-MAIL: sirmilik.info@pc.gc.ca

Ukkusiksalik National Park
Box 220
Repulse Bay, NU X0C 0H0
PHONE: 867-462-4500
E-MAIL: ukkusiksalik.info@pc.gc.ca

Torngat Mountains National Park
Box 471
Nain, NL A0P 1L0
PHONE: 1-800-922-1290 or 709-458-2417
E-MAIL: torngats.info@pc.gc.ca

Wapusk National Park
Box 127 Churchill, MB R0B 0E0
PHONE: 204-675-8863
E-MAIL: wapusk.np@pc.gc.ca 

Western Arctic
Ivvavik National Park
Aulavik National Park
Tuktut Nogait National Park
Pingo Canadian Landmark
Box 1840, Inuvik, NT X0E 0T0
PHONE: 867-777-8800
E-MAIL: inuvik.info@pc.gc.ca

Margo Supplies
A supplier of bear deterrents and warning devices. www.margosupplies.com