Polar Bears International

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Conflicts and Encounters

As sea ice melts, human-to-polar-bear interactions are expected to rise.

Polar-bear attacks on humans are rare, but there is evidence they are increasing. There is reason for concern as we plan for a world with less sea ice.

In many incidents, the bears are simply curious. In others, they are undernourished, frightened, or provoked. Experts suggest human-to-polar-bear encounters will increase as more polar bears spend longer periods of time on shore and as human activities increase, both in response to longer ice-free seasons.

Increase in attacks:

Over the past few years, sea-ice loss has led to increased polar bear sightings in northern coastal communities.

At the same time, more people are working in polar-bear country. The combination has elevated the number of human-to-polar-bear encounters.

Some of these have had tragic endings, for both humans and the bears—but more frequently for the bears.

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Dr. Tom Smith, an expert on human-to-polar-bear conflicts, says when in polar-bear country,
 you can avoid negative outcomes by taking a few simple precautions:


Minimize attractants (items with strong odors, including food and some chemicals).

Stay alert to your surroundings.

Carry pepper spray (100% effective), a firearm (76% effective), or other non-lethal deterrents (flares, bear bangers).

If the bear is out of spray range, use deterrents like a flare or banger.

If camping, string a trip-wire alarm system and/or an electric fence around your campsite. If you have to camp in an area with polar-bear activity, set a watch.

Always travel in groups of two or more and stay together if a bear approaches.

Bear Tracker

Watch polar bears as they travel across the sea ice to hunt seals.

Check out Bear Tracker

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Polar Bear FAQ

We answer the most frequently asked polar bear questions.

Go to FAQ

Climate Change

A threat to polar bears and the sea ice they depend on.

Learn More

© Daniel J. Cox/NaturalExposures.com