Polar bears can actively hunt, attack and eat humans if they are starving, although they’re less likely to hunt humans for food than other animals.
The biggest study on polar bear attacks on humans showed that there were 73 attacks in 144 years, with 20 fatalities. The study found that they only really hunted humans if they were starving.
According to the WWF, there’s been a rise in the number of attacks from polar bears on humans due to the thinning and retreating of the Arctic sea ice. This has pushed polar bears closer to human habitats.
Polar bears have a potent sense of smell which pulls them towards human garbage, food, dogs, and carcasses and puts them into direct conflict with people from the Arctic.
Do Polar Bears Hunt Humans?
Although there are recorded attacks from polar bears on humans, the likelihood of being attacked is very rare and the instances are one to three per year, in the whole world, according to Polar Bears International.
Since polar bears spend most of their life on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean and depend on it for food and habitat, they’re the only species of bears that are classified as marine mammals.
Polar bears are curious animals by nature and in a world mostly filled with ice blocks and holes, anything else that stands out can easily attract them. This is why most attacks recorded have to do with people who are camping near areas with polar bears or those closer to the shore.
Related Article: Can Polar Bears Breathe Underwater?
Polar Bear Attacks are on the Rise
Unfortunately, throughout this predator’s range, their attacks on humans and properties have been on the rise. More than 20 direct attacks on humans have been reported in recent years!
Campsites are particularly attractive to polar bears due to the bright colors and unusual sounds and odors coming from the people and food.
Since polar bears are known to investigate their surroundings, the risk of an attack is higher if one doesn’t take the necessary protective measures such as using bear hangs to keep food away from campsites.
Night time is also a risk factor. Bears are curious, but also cautious and they will do their investigation when there’s little movement or sounds.
Protecting yourself from Polar Bear Attacks
To prevent or survive a polar bear attack when found in their territory, humans should never go into bear territory if not necessary and never without carrying protection, i.e. firearms or bear spray.
Bear spray or pepper spray is used to reduce injury from a potential bear contact. It’s sprayed within close range of the animal and it will burn its mouth, eyes, and nose without causing any permanent damage.
Polar Bears International notes that bear spray is 98 percent effective whereas the percent of the effectiveness of firearms is 76. Signal flares are also used for protection and are helpful when the bear is out of the 20 feet spray range.
Some campsites and remote outposts also set up electric fences to protect from polar bears.
Related Article: How Far can Polar Bears Smell?
Where do Polar Bears and Humans Interact?
The most common place where polar bears and humans interact is Churchill, Canada. Polar bears pass through here every October on their migration route, causing a rise in human-bear interactions.
Churchill is a major tourist attraction during migration season because you have a very high chance of encountering a polar bear. Specialized vehicles that drive on ice are used to take tourists around to find and photograph polar bears.
Here’s a quick introductory video about Churchill:
Do Humans Hunt Polar Bears?
According to Sea World Parks and Entertainment, polar bears have been hunted by humans for thousands of years. Arctic people traditionally hunt them for food, bedding, clothing, and religious purposes. Sometimes, these bears are killed in defense.
However, commercial hunting rose in the 50s and 60s when people started using boats, snowmobiles, and airplanes for hunting. Concerns about these methods led to an international agreement in the 70s that prohibited aircraft or big motorboats for polar bear hunting.
Unfortunately, in the latest decades, hunting has been the no.1 reason for increased polar bear mortality. In some parts, polar bear hunting is government-regulated whereas in places like Norway and some parts of Russia, it’s banned.
Some Indigenous populations in North America traditionally hunt polar bears for their meat.
The polar bear population is also at risk due to climate change characterized by increased temperatures and ice melting, resulting in the loss of their natural habitat.
This predator isn’t only threatened by hunting and climate change. The gas and oil industry is present in the Arctic and carries risks of potential habitat destruction due to oil exploration.
Moreover, when polar bears come into contact with oil spills, the insulating effects of their fur is reduced and they need more energy to warm themselves up. Accidental ingestion can poison them and exposure to toxic chemicals can affect their reproductive abilities and biological functions.
Related Article: Why Don’t Polar Bears Eat Penguins?
Are Polar Bears Dangerous?
Polar bears aren’t vicious by nature but are big enough to perceive humans as food. Twice the size of Siberian tigers, they’re often desperate and hungry.
They’re the biggest carnivores (an adult male can reach a weight of over 1500 pounds!) and since there’s little vegetation in their natural habitat, they’re the most carnivorous of all the bear species. They have big bellies and will take advantage of food if there’s a chance for it.
Polar bears are considered dangerous due to their predatory skills-they can outrun humans and knock a human head off with a single swing of their fist! Mostly though, polar bears eat seals, as well as birds and bird eggs, walruses, musk oxen, etc.
This giant bear’s translucent fur offers the ideal camouflage and their nose can smell humans for miles. Indeed, polar bears are agile predators both on land and in the sea.
You should have bear spray to protect yourself from a bear. However, the last approach, if faced with a polar bear, is to begin backing away slowly. Avoiding fast movement and running is pivotal because it can provoke this animal and make it feel threatened. Crouching should also be avoided as they may perceive you as smaller prey.
Still, the best defense is to take polar bear sightings seriously and to stay away from unprotected and unnecessary encounters!
Polar bears can attack people if they feel threatened, although the likelihood is small. There’s evidence that polar bears have stalked and hunted humans, but this is rare. Any encounter with this majestic mammal is potentially life-threatening considering its size, predatory skills, and carnivorous nature.
Although there are records of humans being attacked by polar bears, these predators mostly eat seals and birds. Some of the main reasons why there’s an increase in the conflict between polar bears and humans are believed to be climate change, lack of food, and loss of habitat.
Despite the fact that humans have been hunting polar bears for centuries, in recent years, this practice has contributed to their decreasing population, along with oil explorations and climate change. Protecting polar bears is essential-they’re at the top of the food chain and play a major role in keeping the marine environment healthy.
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