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Conflicts and Encounters

As sea ice melts, human-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-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-polar bear encounters. Some of these have had tragic endings, for both people and polar bears.

Polar Bears International is pro-actively working to reduce these conflicts and prevent deaths or injuries. This work includes sharing information on best practices, including the use of bear spray and other non-lethal deterrents; conducting training workshops; and researching technology that could alert communities to an approaching polar bear, triggering an alert that would allow them to deter the bear in a non-lethal fashion. 

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Dr. Tom Smith, an expert on human-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.

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