The Northern Lights are one of the most amazing natural phenomena that you can experience in your life. But wait, you’re not alone. What is that big shadow in the dark? Oh, gosh. It’s a polar bear. And you are in the middle of the Arctic. How can you get out of this in one piece? It won’t be easy this time.
Polar bears are fascinating creatures. They live in the Arctic Sea. They are one of the largest land predators on Earth. And are one of the largest carnivorous land mammals. During their hunting season, they mainly feed on seals. So in order to pack on some fat, they spend the winter hunting on the Arctic sea ice.
In summer, they eat much less or even nothing. They can lose around 50 kg (110 lb) waiting for colder temps and the ice to form again. Due to global warming, the ice season is shorter. Not only that, the ice is weaker, so many polar bears cannot hunt and eat as much food as they need. They must spend more time ashore, closer to human settlements.
And you can bet they are hungry. Can you chase away a hungry polar bear? Can you outrun it? Can it eat you whole?
Step 1: Move slowly
Encounters with polar bears are always serious. They hunt in white landscapes covered in ice, so any shape they see can become prey. Oh yeah, even you, taking pictures in the snow. They’re fast. Skilled predators. And they’re not afraid of humans. So if a polar bear approaches you, don’t make any quick or sudden movement. Instead, try calling for help by phone or radio. Polar bears can run up to 40 km/h (25 mph), so unless you’re Usain Bolt, don’t even try to run away.
Step 2: Pack some gadgets
Never try to fight a polar bear. They can reach 3.3 m (11 ft) tall standing up, and weigh up to 770 kg (1,700 lb). So you are not a formidable opponent to them. To fill this impressive physique, they need at least 2 kg (4.2 pounds) of fat a day. But their stomachs can hold up to 20% of their body weight, as much as 150 kg (330 lb). So yeah, a polar bear could eat you whole.
So instead of fighting, you might want to pack some gadgets. Flares can scare away a polar bear. Firing a gun may scare it off too. Just don’t wait for it to get too close. You want it to be as far away as possible.
If it’s too late, and the polar bear’s charging at you, use bear spray. It will blind this predator for a while, and hinder its sense of smell. So spray it, and run away as if your life depends on it. Cause it does.
Step 3: Don’t cook outside
Polar bears have a fantastic sense of smell. They can smell prey from more than 1 km (0.6 miles) away. So you don’t want to carry smelly food in your backpack, or cook it outdoors. Also, if you catch some fish, don’t leave it hanging around. It can attract a polar bear. Not only could it eat your dinner, it might have you for dessert.”
Step 4: Pack and move
In 2013, a group of hikers went camping in Torngat Mountains National Park in Canada. At night, they saw a mother polar bear with her cub, so they started yelling. The bears didn’t come closer to the camp. But the next day, another polar bear showed up, and this time it closed in on them.
They fired a flare, and the bear got scared and retreated when the shell landed near it. That night, the bear came back, broke down a tent, grabbed a hiker in its mouth, and started to leave. The other campers ran after the bear, screaming and making noises. Then they fired another flare, and the bear dropped the hiker and ran away.
He was so badly hurt that his friends were afraid he was dead. But a few hours later, a helicopter flew him to emergency medical care, and he survived. So, never camp alone, and never ignore warning signs. If a polar bear shows up, pack up and get out of there.
Step 5: Avoid locks
When the Arctic sea ice melts, polar bears go ashore. Hunger and curiosity lead them to human settlements, such as Churchill, by Canada’s Hudson Bay. Not surprisingly, it’s called “the polar bear capital of the world.” In the past, conservation guards used to kill about 25 polar bears a year, but now they have created an alarm system. They even have a prison for polar bears who get too curious. And since a hungry polar bear can always be on the prowl, no doors in the city are locked. Anyone can take refuge anytime, anywhere.
Polar bears are incredible predators. So it may come as a surprise that they’re a threatened species. Scientists estimate that there are only 26,000 left and that they can become extinct in the next 80 years due to climate change. Talking about extinctions, have you imagined being the last person on Earth? Could you survive that?
- “Most polar bears to disappear by 2100, study predicts”. 2020. The Guardian.
- “Yellowstone National Park Bear Safety Brief”. nps.gov.
- “Churchill”. 2013. Travel.
- “Polar Bear | National Wildlife Federation”. 2021. National Wildlife Federation.
- “As Polar Bear Attacks Increase In Warming Arctic, A Search For Solutions”. 2021. Yale E360.
- “Polar Bear Diet”. 2021. arcticwwf.org.