Polar bear attacks on humans: Implications of a changing climate

The important thing to remember is: People will die!~ctm


First published: 2 July 2017 Full publication history

Full article


Understanding causes of polar bear (Ursus maritimus) attacks on humans is critical to ensuring both human safety and polar bear conservation. Although considerable attention has been focused on understanding black (U. americanus) and grizzly (U. arctos) bear conflicts with humans, there have been few attempts to systematically collect, analyze, and interpret available information on human-polar bear conflicts across their range. To help fill this knowledge gap, a database was developed (Polar Bear-Human Information Management System [PBHIMS]) to facilitate the range-wide collection and analysis of human-polar bear conflict data. We populated the PBHIMS with data collected throughout the polar bear range, analyzed polar bear attacks on people, and found that reported attacks have been extremely rare. From 1870–2014, we documented 73 attacks by wild polar bears, distributed among the 5 polar bear Range States (Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia, and United States), which resulted in 20 human fatalities and 63 human injuries. We found that nutritionally stressed adult male polar bears were the most likely to pose threats to human safety. Attacks by adult females were rare, and most were attributed to defense of cubs. We judged that bears acted as a predator in most attacks, and that nearly all attacks involved ≤2 people. Increased concern for both human and bear safety is warranted in light of predictions of increased numbers of nutritionally stressed bears spending longer amounts of time on land near people because of the loss of their sea ice habitat. Improved conflict investigation is needed to collect accurate and relevant data and communicate accurate bear safety messages and mitigation strategies to the public. With better information, people can take proactive measures in polar bear habitat to ensure their safety and prevent conflicts with polar bears. This work represents an important first step towards improving our understanding of factors influencing human-polar bear conflicts. Continued collection and analysis of range-wide data on interactions and conflicts will help increase human safety and ensure the conservation of polar bears for future generations. © 2017 The Wildlife Society.


Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) have evolved to exploit the biologically productive Arctic sea ice niche by using it as a platform to prey upon marine mammals (Amstrup 2003). Before European exploration, this habitat specialization likely kept them separated from most people, and thus helped reduce human-bear conflicts. However, the extent of human-polar bear interactions began to change in the sixteenth century with the advent of widespread maritime exploration. Historical records provide some insight into the nexus between human and bear behavior and help inform current efforts to reduce human-polar bear conflict.

Although the Arctic has been inhabited by Indigenous people in relatively low numbers for thousands of years, the first recorded polar bear attack we found dates to 1595 when 2 members of William Barent’s second expedition were reportedly killed and eaten by a polar bear in the Russian Arctic (de Veer 1876). The incident occurred on 6 September on an islet near Vaygach Island. Two men were lying in a wind-free depression resting, when:

a great leane white beare came sodainly stealing out, and caught one of them fast by the necke, the beare at the first faling vpon the man, bit his head in sunder.” The ship’s crew rallied, and tried to drive the bear off of the victim: “hauing charged their peeces and bent their pikes, set vpon her, that still was deuouring the man, but perceiuiug them to come towards her, fiercely and cruelly ran at them, and gat another of them out from the companie, which she tare in peeces, wherewith all the rest ran away (de Veer 1876:63).”

Eventually the crew was able to again rally, and finally killed the bear as it continued to devour its victims. The vivid account provided by de Veer demonstrates the potential danger of polar bears, and is consistent in many respects with what we have learned from more recent attacks.

Continued European expansion into the Arctic led to increased conflict with, and exploitation of, polar bears (Conway et al. 1904). For example, a commercial expedition to Svalbard in 1610 reported killing 27 polar bears and catching 5 cubs (Lønø 1970). Commercial polar bear hunting continued through the centuries. In the early decades of the twentieth century, hundreds of bears were harvested on Svalbard annually. In 1924 alone, at least 901 polar bears were harvested on Svalbard (Lønø 1970). The widespread use of fossil fuels further accelerated human access to remote areas of the Arctic, resulting in significant hunting pressure on polar bears throughout their range after World War II. As a result, by the 1960s, the most significant threat facing polar bears was over-hunting, and populations in some areas were considered to be substantially reduced (Larsen 1975).

To address these and other conservation concerns, in 1973 the 5 polar bear countries (Canada, Denmark [on behalf of Greenland], Norway, the former Soviet Union, and the United States) signed the Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears (1973 Agreement). The 1973 Agreement requires the 5 signatory countries (the Range States) to restrict the taking of polar bears and manage polar bear subpopulations in accordance with sound conservation practices based on the best available scientific data (DeMaster and Stirling 1981, Prestrud and Sterling 1994, Larsen and Stirling 2009). It also allows harvest by local people using traditional methods in the exercise of their traditional rights and in accordance with the laws of that Party (1973 Agreement). Subsequent to 1973, measures implemented by the Range States, such as increased research and monitoring, cooperative harvest management programs, and establishment of protected areas, were presumed to have either stabilized, or led to the recovery of, subpopulations that had experienced excessive unregulated harvest (Amstrup et al. 1986, Prestrud and Sterling 1994). Today, polar bears are legally harvested by Indigenous peoples in Alaska, Canada, and Greenland, and harvest levels in most subpopulations are well managed and occur at a rate that does not have a negative effect on population viability (Obbard et al. 2010, Regehr et al. 2015).

However, polar bears now face a new and unprecedented threat due to the effects of climate change on their sea ice habitat (Stirling and Derocher 1993, 2012; Derocher et al. 2004; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2008; Atwood et al. 2016a). Although the current status of polar bear subpopulations is variable, all polar bears depend on sea ice for fundamental aspects of their life history (Amstrup et al. 2008), including access to their primary prey, ice seals (Stirling 1974). Arctic sea ice extent and thickness have declined over the last 4 decades (Stroeve et al. 2014, Stern and Laidre 2016), leading some to conclude that the Arctic Ocean in summer may be largely ice free (i.e., <1,000,000 km2) as early as 2020 (Overland and Wang 2013).

In some parts of the polar bear range, diminishing summer sea ice has resulted in the increased use of terrestrial habitat by polar bears (Stirling et al. 1999, Schliebe et al. 2008, Gleason and Rode 2009, Cherry et al. 2013, Rode et al. 2015b). Longer ice-free periods (Stern and Laidre 2016) shorten polar bear hunting opportunities during the critical hyperphagic period of late spring and early summer (Ramsay and Stirling 1988), when hunting conditions are most favorable (Stirling and Øritsland 1995), and extend the duration of the on-land period through which polar bears must survive on finite stores of body fat (Cherry et al. 2013). The resultant increased fasting has significant negative effects on polar bear body condition (Stirling et al. 1999, Rode et al. 2010a) and the increasing ice-free period has been linked to declines in survival (Stirling and Derocher 1993; Stirling et al. 1999; Regehr et al. 2010, 2007; Bromaghin et al. 2015). Longer periods of fasting and increased nutritional stress (Cherry et al. 2009; Molnár et al. 2010, 2014; Rode et al. 2010a; Regehr et al. 2010) have also been attributed to incidents of infanticide, cannibalism, and starvation in some polar bear subpopulations (Lunn and Stenhouse 1985, Derocher and Wiig 1999, Amstrup et al. 2006, Stirling et al. 2008a), although Taylor et al. (1985) suggested that cannibalism is not an uncommon phenomenon in polar bear biology. When on shore, some nutritionally stressed bears are highly motivated to obtain food however they can, and appear more willing to risk interacting with humans as a result (e.g., Stirling and Derocher 1993, Derocher et al. 2004, Stirling and Parkinson 2006, Towns et al. 2009). Increased frequency of hungry bears on land due to retreating sea ice, coupled with expanding human activity in the polar bear range, is expected to result in a greater risk of human-polar bear interaction and conflict (Stirling and Derocher 1993, Derocher et al. 2004, Stirling and Parkinson 2006).

To date, polar bear attacks on humans have been rare. When they do occur, they evoke negative public reaction, often to the detriment of polar bear conservation. In some communities, those negative reactions can persist for decades and result in less social tolerance for polar bears and increased defense kills (Löe and Röskaft 2004, Voorhees et al. 2014). Recurrent conflicts not only undermine the well-being of people and wildlife (Madhusudan 2003), they also negatively affect local support for conservation (Naughton-Treves et al. 2003). Therefore, the effective management of human-bear conflict is an essential precondition for the coexistence of bears and people across the Arctic (Madden 2004).

A primary management goal of the Range States is to ensure the safe coexistence of polar bears and people. In 2009, the Range States recognized the need to develop comprehensive strategies to minimize human-bear conflicts resulting from expanding human activities in the Arctic and a continued increase of nutritionally stressed bears on land due to reductions in sea ice (Directorate for Nature Management 2009). However, one of the difficulties in understanding and managing human-polar bear conflicts is that they are often poorly documented, particularly at the circumpolar level (Vongraven et al. 2012). Although considerable attention has been focused on understanding black (U. americanus) and grizzly (U. arctos) bear-human conflicts (Herrero 2002), there have been few attempts to systematically collect, analyze, and interpret available information on human-polar bear conflicts across their range (but see Fleck and Herrero 1988, Stenhouse et al. 1988, Gjertz and Scheie 1998, Dyck 2006, Towns et al. 2009). As a result, the public is left with misconceptions and misinformation regarding polar bears and their behavior, most of it driven by sensational media coverage. For example, it is commonly asserted that polar bears are the most aggressive of bears and polar bears are the only large predator that will actively hunt people (e.g., The Daily Mail 2008). An important factor that fuels such common folklore is that only a small fraction of the interactions between polar bears and people are reported; the exceptions are attacks that lead to human injuries or death.

To address these knowledge gaps and public misperceptions, the Range States tasked the United States and Norway with leading an effort, in collaboration with other polar bear experts and managers, to develop a system to collect and analyze data on human-polar bear conflicts (Directorate for Nature Management 2009). The result was the Polar Bear-Human Information Management System (PBHIMS), a database designed to document, quantify, and help evaluate human-bear interactions and other information relevant to bear management. We analyzed data entered into PBHIMS to characterize the occurrence of polar bear attacks on humans. We used this information to suggest methods to minimize the risk of future polar bear attacks to promote both human safety and polar bear conservation. We also identified data needed to best inform future management of conflicts. Although the PBHIMS includes other types of data that can be used to mitigate conflicts, we initially focused on attacks because they are the most extreme and undesirable encounters between humans and polar bears.

Full paper is here:

HT/Cam_S and Neo


155 thoughts on “Polar bear attacks on humans: Implications of a changing climate

  1. Whether the bear is in the Arctic Circle or in a zoo enclosure if you chose to join them, they will eat you! Best stay out of THEIR world.

      • Not to mention the fact that more people are moving into the boondocks, off the grid so to speak.
        Well, polar bears live as far off the grid as an animal can get and people are on their menu.

      • I’ve seen polar bears feasting onshore in Alaska. Basically, the natives catch a whale, land it where they please (like my then employer’s parking lot…), take a few choice pieces, and leave the rest. Basically a polar bear magnet for any within a 100 miles.

        Fortunately with the carcass still meaty, the bears weren’t too interested in my truck with the chewy filling. With dozens of polar bears in the parking lot, I wasn’t going to make a dash for the door either. I gently nudged through the parking lot and got the H out of there…

      • The lack of, …… loss of …… or decrease in …… snow cover sea ice in the Arctic, ….. during the “birthing season” of Harp seal pups, …… is one of the reasons for the increase in Polar Bear populations.

        Harp seal pups are abruptly weaned from their mothers after about two weeks. Adult females leave their pups on the ice where they remain without eating for approximately 6 weeks. ” Source: https://www.wildrepublic.com/en/harp-seal-pup

        As long as there are female Harp seals birthing and nursing their pups, the Polar Bears will survive. If all the “snow covered” sea ice melts away, …….. the female Harp seals will be forced to come ashore ……. where the “pickin” will be easy for the Polar Bear predators.

      • “yes they do”

        No they don’t. Females build a den where they bear and nurse their cubs, but they don’t go into true hibernation since nursing and caring for their cubs requires a higher body temperature. By the way this applies to all bears – females with cubs hibernate very lightly and periodically wake up to care for their cubs.

    • Green Sand,
      Thanks, We don’t need a study to prove the obvious.
      One of Friends worked on the Alyeska pipeline during the construction and mentioned that one of the workers went out to check some equipment from a remote pumping station and was attacked and killed by a Polar Bear about 40 years ago. Nothing has changed.

    • Yup. Polar Bears like eating people. In the footage below the bear abandoned a seal hole and decided that he wanted to eat a human instead:

      It times to bring back full scale hunting of these overpopulated beasts!

      • At one human casualty every two years for the past 144 years how does that compare to human/Grizzly bear fatalities? Just asking.

    • The expanding numbers of Polar bears do require food.
      I suggest “climate experts” visit on snowshoes (no airplanes, guns, snowmobiles, and so on).
      Darwin Awards will be given to all the experts with a successful encounter.

      • Splendid suggestion. Research paper on the one hand appears to institutionalize common sense. But, it gives the reader an important takeaway in that the research seems to show that, given the opportunity, polar bears will kill you. Still, more data is needed. Unanswered questions remain. Will grizzly statistics yield similar results? Packs of arctic wolves? Large swamp ‘Gators? So much knowledge to gather. So little . . .

    • Yep, the article could have been much shorter. Just stay away from polar bears. They can swim 200 miles and run at a top speed of about 40mph, and they will eat just about anything they can kill.

    • Finally, no supplementary data is provided to show which records of attacks were included in the study, and no information is provided about how to access the database. How is that possible in this day and age?

      But why should they give their data to anyone else? They only want to find something wrong with it.

      Since they get the “right” answer: that polar bears a beautiful and cuddly, why would anyone need to check their work?

      • The authors of this paper should be made to spend 6 months in Spitzenberg doing some field research on the nature of polar bears in close proximity to humans, instead of pen pushing and polishing the leather of their academic “chairs” with their butts.

      • It would not surprise me to learn that the authors have already stepped in PB poo in their Birkenstocks.

    • The lead author of this paper (Wilder) told journalist and blogger Craig Medred that he did not anticipate the media frenzy that has been generated by the Polar Bears International press release issued last week


      “Wilder admitted to being “a little frustrated with the (polar) media coverage.”

      As the lead author on the study – which was begun to document an uptick in polar bear attacks in recent years – Wilder thought reporters might contact him for perspective before drawing conclusions from the paper.

      He was wrong. Badly wrong.”

      “Our whole intent when we started this was to get away from the hyperbole,” Wilder said.”

      So, apparently what polar bear researchers want is more control over media hyperbole – to pile it on when they want to scare people into believe that 2/3 of the world’s polar bears will die by 2050 if we don’t stop emitting CO2, and supply nuance on topics that get in the way of their conservation efforts (like frightening people about attacking polar bears in the future).

      Controlling media is like herding cats – how could they not know that?

      Leaves me amused but frustrated. If only they had simply stuck to the science….


      • “necessary to stick to their natural diet… ” As humans have inhabited parts of Siberia up to 40,000 years ago, Alaska up to 15,000 years ago, something tells me humans have been part of their natural diet for a very long time. In some parts of the north, one would not go next door without a shotgun in tow.

      • Duncan;

        I have a suspicion that a shot gun wouldn’t do it …. unless loaded with a slug. A rifle would be more effective.

      • The photo accompanying this article is cropped from the cover of Susan’s novel, “Eaten,” released in 2015. Available at Amazon. Warning: It is not for folks who like to think of cuddly polar bears lounging by the pop machine drinking Coke.

      • Griff:

        Here is your chance to apologize personally to Susan for your previous insulting post about her competence to discuss polar bears.

  2. With less hunting, there is an increased population of Polar Bears, which are less wary of humans because of less hunting. Duuh!

  3. “To address these knowledge gaps and public misperceptions…”

    As I read these extracts day after day after day the overwhelming thought occurs: Science Is Overfunded.

    • Overfunded, no. they are just giving the money to the wrong people with no oversight. If they got some objective scientists on the job they would have done 30 years of science instead of 30y or political activism.

      • BallBounces
        Send me money. £ot$ of it.
        I’££ do the $tudy [damn – I can’t find a ‘Yen’ symbol! But you get the idea, I $uppo$e!].

        Auto – keen to do a study . . . .

    • Government and foundation funding of science is too high. Need to chop budgets drastically, tax foundations on frivolous expenditures (parties, conferences, environmental activism, and other activism).
      Business funding – not so much.

  4. “However, polar bears now face a new and unprecedented threat due to the effects of climate change on their sea ice habitat”

    BS. I would first hone in on the increase of PB populations. I would compare human deaths from PB’s before the 1st controls on hunting of PB”s in latter 1940’s to later deaths after the sport hunting elimination. Then, one can extrapolate the population increase of PB’s to those comparisons.

  5. “Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) have evolved to exploit the biologically productive Arctic sea ice niche by using it as a platform to prey upon marine mammals (Amstrup 2003). Before European exploration, this habitat specialization likely kept them separated from most people, and thus helped reduce human-bear conflicts.”

    But then we have this.

    “It also allows harvest by local people using traditional methods in the exercise of their traditional rights”

    So obviously the local people had traditionally hunted and interacted with the polar bears. Especially obvious since the local people exploited the same ‘biologically productive Arctic sea ice niche’ and thus the locals and bears were in direct competition for thousands of years. While this paper seems to think that the interaction only occurred when Europeans showed up, which also seems to ignore the fact that the Europeans in Norway had been there all along.

    “including access to their primary prey, ice seals (Stirling 1974)”

    And what pray tell is an ‘ice seal’? I can’t find this species listed anywhere.

    It sounds like these “scientists” read some other people’s papers, came to some conclusions and then wrote their paper. Or more likely they came to their conclusion, then read some papers to find ones that supported their conclusion, then wrote their paper which passed peer review with a rubber stamp because it blamed climate change.

    • I posted this before reading the review of the paper by Susan Crockford at Polar Bear Science. Looks like she covers the same things (and more) that I did and with much better scholarship.

      Although I did notice one issue, undoubtedly a typo, with her post.

      “While the goal of “improving the deadliness” of conflicts between people and polar bears in the Arctic is admirable and necessary”

      I don’t think anyone’s goal is improving the deadliness to either the bears or humans from conflict.

      • But taken from the viewpoint of the bears, “improving the deadliness” is much desired and admired, in terms of the human-to-bear kill ratio.

  6. On an aside. just went to look for something previously posted at the EPA [looking for: https://www.epa.gov/climatechange/indications%5D, and came up with this:

    This page is being updated.

    Thank you for your interest in this topic. We are currently updating our website to reflect EPA’s priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator Pruitt.

    The times, they are a changing.

  7. So far, knock on wood, here in North Carolina we haven’t had a polar bear sighting since I can remember when.. well actually never as far as I can tell since the last ice age… well except for the NC Zoo but I’m sure that doesn’t count (or maybe it does).

    But I’m pretty sure part deux of this article will scare the bejeezus out of us folks here in the SE United States telling us the polar bears are coming south due to lack of food and blame it all on global warming climate change.

  8. Polar bears have been eating people for thousands of years. Good lord, is there NOTHING that global warming is not responsible for???

  9. Hey! Whoa!! Wait a minute! Global warming means there will be no polar bears, according to the same folks who are here claiming they will be dining on humans.

  10. About a month or so ago, there was a report of a Northern Indigenous young man who died hunting polar bears. He was following his ancestral culture as a sign of manhood: killing a polar bear. This polar bear killing is the quintessential sign of manhood to be displayed proudly within the Indigenous group.

    It would seem that such a manhood exercise reflected a long tradition of skill, bravery and luck. Imagine a young man on his own, first stalking, then approaching, then attacking a 400+ pound bear on the edges of an ice flow with a flint stone tipped spear.

    Now the death report: The young man died as his snowmobile broke through thin ice while pulling a deceased polar bear on a sled he had killed using his 306 rifle fitted with high powered telescopic scope able to kill a polar bear more than a mile away.

    “It also allows harvest (of polar bears) by local people using traditional methods in the exercise of their traditional rights and in accordance with the laws of that Party (1973 Agreement).”

    It seems the Indigenous People hadn’t got the complete message regarding “traditional methods.”

    • “… using his 306 rifle…” and “…able to kill a Polar Bear more than a mile away.” are statements which raise an eyebrow.
      Presumably, the article spoke about a .30-06 (cartridge name) rifle, used by the hunter. That’s the most common high- power hunting cartridge in the world. As far as “the ability to kill a bear a mile away” is concerned… possible, but unlikely.

      First, the ability to successfully hit a target at that distance takes considerable practice by someone with a lot of knowledge about the factors involved. Few marksmen could make the shot.

      Secondly, any rifle capable of accurate shot placement at that distance must be equipped with special mounts for the rifle scope, in order to meet the line of sight elevation adjustment needed for such a long shot. Such elevation- enhanced mounting systems are atypical for hunting rifles.

      Finally, a bullet fired from a .30-06 might still have enough retained velocity/energy at over a mile to penetrate to a bear’s vital organs, but it would need a “perfect” strike on the heart, for instance, without having to penetrate heavy bone.
      FWIW, Studies long ago by the military showed that a .30-06 – fired bullet might have sufficient force for deadly effect at range of 8,000 yards. Some existing rifle ranges were thus abandoned, after the cartridge’s introduction, in 1906.

      Indigenous people have been hunting with rifles since shortly after first contact with traders with rifles.
      Using snowmobiles, not so much.

      • Forgot to add: most common hunting rifles of any caliber, aren’t capable of the precision required for consistent accurate shot placement at distance of a mile. They might be just fine for hitting an Elk at 500 yards, but not at great distances.
        When all is said and done, it takes a lot of skill and money to build a rifle which could hit a target at over a mile, except by luck, or accident.

      • Good so far, and people who routinely try to take shots at a target a mile away, some specialized target shooters and military snipers using guns developed by those target shooters, routinely use a much heavier cartridge , such as .50 Browning Machine Gun. Even seeing a bear a mile away would require rather specialized optics, too.

      • That’s right, Tom. And a .30-06 wouldn’t be the first choice for such a rifle… ok, maybe by German Salazar. And the scope… a friend was complaining about how his Hensoldt was less than clear at a mile. Few optics could make the cut.

      • I wonder, if he meant 308, when saying 306. A 308 rifle has a pretty good impact for hunting bigger game, although a hunter would likely want more power when hunting something like a polar bear.

      • If I recall correctly, this was a side story within a larger story. My “history” is renewed every two weeks so I can’t go back there. The main story was about an isolate community and young people moving away with the loss of traditions; i.e., no one to carry on the community’s traditions.

      • Yup. I have some expertise in this. Use a Rem model 700 normally scoped v6x 30.06 with different bullet weights and sightings for American big game (white tails, mulies, elk) up to 250 yards. Went to hand loads for reliability. Have a Rem model 700 heavy barrel on a bedded kevlar stock in .223 with a front bipod and ‘abnormal’ v12x scope for groundhogs/ prarie dogs out to 600 yards using custom hand loads. No factory load is reliable enough at that range. For lots of reasons, the long range military snipers (beyond ~600 yards) use a heavy barrel .50BMG match load custom round in a personalizable stock like,you see in the Olympics. And you need to be tough for the recoil. Big heavy bullet least affected by windage and such once you have computed the trajectory/distance. Recent longest terrorist sniper kill ever was a Canadian firing that round through a McMillan Tac 50 rifle. Rifle weighs 25 pounds, a small cannon. 3540 meters!

      • Alan: I ran a 180 gr 30.06 bullet through a ballistics calculator. At 1,750 yards, a drop of over 2,000 inches (about 170 feet at one mile, give or take a few feet). Even at 500 yards, a severe drop. Suspect there was some feet to meter (or back) conversion that got messed up in the story.

      • Good job, Windsong.
        The remaining energy at that distance, using a 180gr. Sierra SMK custom loaded near max pressure w/Ram shot Hunter fired @ 2800 fps would be around 325 ft- lbs., about the same as a .22 WMR, at the muzzle.
        It would be better to use a bullet with higher ballistic coefficient at such distance, such as a Berger 210 gr VLD.

        Since a higher BC bullet would reduce max drop to under 30 mils, such a shot might be barely possible with a .30-06 rifle put together with off the shelf components: a 30 moa badger rail and a scope with 30 mil internal adjustment and 15+ mil vertical reticle subtensions… an SWFA HD20x would do it.
        There would be over 300″ horizontal drift in a 10 mph wind…
        Then there’s compensation for the coriolis effect at that distance, since the earth and the target will have moved away from the bullet flight path.
        And mirage…

        I don’t know how that old report i mentioned came up with possible fatal terminal ballistics from a .30-06 at such a great distance (8,000 yds) unless fired from a height, or an airplane.
        I could only run the numbers out to 4000 yards and there was over 220 mils correction at that distance and bullet was dropping nearly 158 feet per 10 yards downrange advance, or nearly vertical trajectory and little velocity/energy loss at that point.

        Just think of the calculations needed to make that longest- ever sniper shot that Rud mentioned. That guy’s spotter was sure busy measuring the wind and distance, as well as feeding temp. and altitude info into his ballistics calculator/ smartphone app.

        Did we just drag a discussion about dangerous Polar Bears off into the weeds, or what?
        In the name of science…

      • I think the reports of 30.06 being lethal at long range date from WWI, and the practice of using long-distance machine gun fire as harassment. There was mention of it in Julian Hatcher “Hatcher’s Notebook” which originally came out shortly after he retired in 1946.

      • Tom Halla July 15, 2017 at 9:07 pm

        … Hatcher’s Notebook …

        It is often delightful to read the reflections of someone who has spent a lifetime developing expertise. I enjoyed a few books like that as a teenager. Another such was The High-Speed Internal Combustion Engine by Sir Harry Ricardo.

    • I imagine that the Inuit are smart enough to know not to waste ammo trying to hit a target a mile 1760 yd) away. Maybe 200 yards to retain bullet energy and be assured of a hit to the vitals. And to be sure, a polar bear could cover 200 yards very quickly if it wanted you for dinner.

      • Yes indeed.
        I watched a film one time with an Eskimo talking about hunting various game with a .22LR, but then he said that for the Polar Bears, he preferred something really powerful, like a 250 Savage. lol
        I’d want something a little thicker.
        I’ve also read that Polar Bears are a bit like humans in one regard, that they are easily killed by small caliber rifles, if they don’t know they are being hunted and the shot is a complete surprise- it’s a “shock” thing. The article then went on to say that bears which are alarmed, agitated and ready, do not go into shock when hit and can put up a great fight and are hard to bring down, both situations being similar to humans.

      • I don’t think I’d wait until 200 yards just to save ammo.
        Besides, polar bears have a place in our society.

      • RA,
        I’m reminded of a story I read many years ago. A hunter in Alaska shot a Kodiak at 100 yards, with what he thought was a perfectly placed shot from a .30-06. He stood there stunned as the bear turned and charged him, closing the 100 yard distance in 10 seconds. The bear killed the hunter before dropping dead. A later examination showed that it was a perfect shot, having exploded the heart. The bear was running on residual blood and adrenalin, living just long enough to make a point. If the bear doesn’t go down promptly, and charges you, it is probably best to try to break a shoulder or leg with a follow-up shot to prevent it from reaching you.

    • And there you have it – ‘broke through thin ice’.

      If you read any recent account from the native communities around the arctic, you will find they all mention the changes in the sea ice, which they used to rely on for hunting, but which is now thinner and unpredictable…


      And this is an account of the changes from the people who live in the arctic

      • Returning to the seem of the crime Griffy, you have right to post here go get eaten by your polar bear you creep.

  11. The likelihood of a polar bear attacking a human depends on that bear’s experience with humans. People up north generally don’t tolerate polar bears near them and will try to make the experience unpleasant for the bear. The amount of unpleasantness increases with the stubbornness of the bear. That’s why bears with human experience will generally avoid humans. Lack of such experience is why the young ones are the most dangerous.

    Watch out for the dirty yellow polar bears. They have spent a long time in their dens and they are very hungry.

    • commieBob,
      When I was in Point Barrow, I was told that polar bears hunt humans walking on three legs. They keep one paw in front of their black nose and lips to better camouflage themselves against the white snow and ice. :-)

      • I heard a similar story. Seals maintain air holes in the ice so they can come up and breathe. The story was that polar bears would hide their noses while they waited for seals to come up through their air holes. Ian Stirling and his assistants spent a long time checking that out and couldn’t find any evidence that the bears hide their noses. link

  12. “Nutritionally Stressed”? Did they examine the stomach and intestines after killing the bear? Blood exam? Weight exam?

    How many bears were hunted and killed by humans?

    How many garbage dumps in 1870 in comparison to 2016?

    • How many garbage dumps in 1870 in comparison to 2016?

      Maybe more in 1870. It’s pretty hard to move around in the Canadian High Arctic without getting polar bear training. link Garbage is burned so there’s nothing to attract the bears. For sure a raw garbage dump will attract unwanted ursine and human attention. We had an ‘interesting’ incident once and the polar bear guy was at our camp on the next supply plane to investigate and give us a refresher course.

  13. Mmm – the first difficulty with shooting a polar bear a mile away is to actually see him.

    cheers edi

    • Yep. They’re white and everything else is white. Under the ‘right’ conditions they’re darn near invisible.

  14. The study fails to mention that polar bear attacks on humans are virtually unknown in the southern polar regions. Quite an omission.


  15. About 25 years ago three of us investigated several “unprecedented” shark attacks. We got vehemently attacked in a rejected paper that dared to suggest that hunger might have been involved. One reviewer even said that we had no hypothesis even though it was so stated in the title. Some shark biologists (they are neat critters) fell in love with their charges. We had gotten some input from observers of the bear and cougar situation and years later I discussed human predators with someone researching them. He told me that he was not hearing the same things from the agency biologists that were in vogue at the time. Don’t know what ever happened to that. Shark populations were down, but now there are warnings around lots of places. Most produce a lot more babies per female than humans, or bears too.

    I even saw a minor but aggressive attack from one on a fishing line and also interviewed two victims of unprovoked attacks. This makes you less likely to call such rare events “accidents,” and I never understood this hypothetical ocean collapse from removing sharks. Somebody got bit on a nude beach in Florida which may have helped settle the question of what kind of swim wear or color was better. One shark attack investigator long ago suggested that there was something that made them “petulant.” Sailors in WWII had more severe language. I suspect that we are going to have to fish them more again to gain some respect. It seems to help with alligators.

  16. My only complaint about the paper is its academic sesquipedalian obfuscatory terminology. Here, for those who need a clearer abstract, is a half-length parody translation thereof:

    Knowing why polar bears (“PBs”) attack us makes us safer and protects them. The data on PB gustatory hijinks is disorganized, so we created the “People-Vs.-Bear Scorecard.” We found that people have reported relatively few PB attacks, possibly because some failed to complete the report form before journeying through their bear. Between 1870 and 2014, we count 73 attacks by bears not in zoos, causing 20 deaths, 63 injuries.

    Hungry male bears are the most dangerous, Watson. Females aren’t as dangerous, unless with cubs. PBs are usually the predator, believe it or not. They like to catch people alone or in twos. We should worry. Bears should, too, because global warming. Bear lives matter! More data is needed to verify that bears are dangerous and to tell people how not to get eaten. With better data, people can take steps, preferably long, rapid ones…to a gun shop. Expensive work and data massaging will make us safer and ensure that PBs remain extant to eat us in future.

    original © 2017 The Wildlife Society.

  17. True family story, eastern Washington state, my sister’s former husband, late 1990s. He and a buddy were elk hunting off trail horses with pack mules. Got a very nice big bull elk way up above camp in the eastern Cascades. They dressed it out and started down, each with half the dressed elk. The buddy and his pack mule made it back to (civilized meaning reachable by AWD with horse trailers) base camp before nightfall. Gary (sister’s then husband) did not. Buddy went back up the trail next morning to find Gary in a defensive couch by a tree clutching his sidearm and totally shaken. Horse bucked and ran away (later that day recovered back down the trail–smart trail horse). Pack mule dead, elk meat gone. Was a clear mountain lion ambush. We only think we are the top predator. That spot is disputed in the true wild.

    • My Dad had a habit of jogging daily and was on an extended camping vacation in the Rockies, when jogging down a fire road one morning, a forest ranger stopped him and warned against jogging. Seems there was a good population of mountain lions in the area and the sight of a running man would trigger their instinctive “catch the prey” response and that other joggers had not fared well.

    • I’ve heard from North Vietnamese soldiers that they weren’t too scared of the American soldiers, but terrified of the tigers. Americans they could hear coming from miles away. Tigers? They would set up camp in the jungle, with a proper picket line. Next morning a sentry would be gone, or a sleeping bag empty, and tiger tracks around. No-one heard or saw anything in the night.

  18. De Veer was a carpenter on Willem Barentz 3rd voyage in 1598/99. His diary was very, very likely written in 16th century Dutch, not on some cooked version of sixteenth century english. The presumed date (?) of 1876 is therefore also very wrong. The only true part is the bear attack, which I seem to remember was on the Nova Zemblya mishap/3rd voyage.

  19. Climate Change is supposed to have a negative impact on Polar bear population. We know that more bears more attacks on humans, really hard to calculate!!! And you don’t need to do a $000,000 grant to work that out!

  20. There are several actions that can be taken to reduce Polar Bear attacks.

    1. If all hunting restrictions are lifted the polar bear population will decrease as will the number of attacks.

    2. If humans vacate all areas where Polar Bears live, there will be no attacks. The humans can move to areas like the one where I live. To my knowledge, there have been no polar bear attacks in the area where I live because ther are no polar bears.

    This all has nothing to do with climate.

  21. There have been two deadly attacks by wild polar bears in N. America. Both were in Churchill, Manitoba in November and because of a late freeze up.
    Strangely, the ice extent for1968 was greater than any November in the last 20 years.
    Ice coverage at the end of October was the highest in 1983 since 1981

    It might make sense that a late freeze up means hungrier polar bears coming through town but there seems to be a distinct lack of evidence for it.

  22. If you do a search, you will find that tourists in Svalbard regularly get attacked by polar bears.

    When I lived in Olso around 1991, a group of Italian tourists on Svalbard were standing on an ice flow, I polar bear was on a neighbouring ice floe. The tourists were busy chatting and filming the bear. The bear jumped in the water and swam to their floe, clambered up and devoured one of the tourists in front of the others.

    People are so naive it is beyond my comprehension. These bears are strictly non-vegetarian.

    • What were they doing in Polar Bear country without a rifle? This is actually illegal in Svalbard. Today the survivors would have been heavily fined for it.

    • By the way Polar Bears are not strictly non vegetarian. Some polar bears eat considerable quantities of cloud-berries in summer.

  23. Actually there is no need for this type of “research”. It is actually quite simple. If a Polar Bear is not hungry he is harmless. In contrast to grizzlies they are non-aggressive and non-territorial. If a Polar Bear is hungry he is quite dangerous since humans are just food.

    PS One more thing never get between a female Polar Bear and her cubs.

    • Well, recent years have seen the formation of ice on Hudson Bay moving to later in the year, leaving the local bear population stuck on shore without the food resource they need for longer periods…

      Also bear populations along the Beaufort Sea have been sticking on land scavenging from Inuit Bowhead whale kills, rather than moving out onto the ice, as the sea ice has rapidly retreated far offshore.

      Scope for human/bear conflict in both areas, I’d say.

      • As usual Griff is talking out of his azz and doesn’t know what he is talking about. “Granted, the population numbers have been startling. Research from 1984 to 2004 showed that the western Hudson Bay population, which includes the Churchill bears, had declined from 1,194 to 935. The trend lines from that study suggested that by 2011, the population would fall to as low as 676.
        Fast-forward to today and a new study, which reveals that the current polar bear population of western Hudson Bay is 1,013 animals. Wait … what? More bears than there were 10 years ago? Nearly double the prediction? “Polar bears are one of the biggest conservation success stories in the world,” says Drikus Gissing, wildlife director for the Government of Nunavut. “There are more bears here now than there were in the recent past.”
        From Canadian Geographic.

  24. So the observation that more people are being killed by polar bears than before because of Co2 goes hand in hand that more people are being killed by Co2 asphyxiation since the advent of fossil fuelled engines .
    Causation and Correlation.

  25. …. polar bear kills a schoolboy, then the group leader kills the bear.
    It was not either bear’s or schoolboy’s but the group leader’s fault.

    Horatio Chapple, 17, from Salisbury, died while on an adventure holiday to Svalbard with the British Schools Exploring Society in August 2011.
    The Eton schoolboy was was killed by the bear as he emerged from his tent.

    • According to the BBC article it was an accidental issue with the trip wire system. Further the article reveal no blame to the leader, quite the opposite. But it is surely a sad story anyway.

      • For a bunch of school kids trip wires are cheep solution and a lousy protection, pair of good dogs with an armed guard on the watch at 24/7.

      • By Norwegian law every party outside Longyearbyen city limits is required to be armed.This particular party had a german WW II Mauser 98K (Yes, the model year is 1898) with old ammunition that misfired repeatedly.

      • When my sister-in-law got her first teaching job in the north she has to carry a 303 every time she ventured out of doors. The reason? Bears. No take-um-chance. They don’t like loud noises – just scare them away.

  26. “To date, polar bear attacks on humans have been rare. When they do occur, they evoke negative public reaction, …”
    That’s what I like, groundbreaking scientific research.

  27. I can see BS articles being written now, NYTs or Guardian, on how AGW causes angered disenfranchised polar bears to attack humans as retribution for being victims of Climate Change.
    (When any real explanation for an attack would be the large increase in polar bear population and greenies stuck in ice on Arctic trips taking photographs.)

  28. I haven’t had time to read the paper in depth, but just skimming it raises red flags about bias and idle (and somewhat thoughtless) speculation. Of course there are few records of people being killed by polar bears. One only has to look at the human population density of their range and the difficulty of finding missing hunters in such terrain before the age of satellite phones to find the obvious reason.
    The polar bear (whom some biologists now consider a recent variant of the brown bear) is almost completely carnivorous. Native tradition suggests that polar bears have always hunted people as part of their normal behavior. And so far, being hunted by humans doesn’t seem to have deterred them a bit.

    The article frequently cites the work of Steven Herrero, who has distinguished himself by maintaining that brown bears are not dangerous to humans in the field if only people take a few simple precautions (travel in groups of four or more, make noise). He knows better, having been attacked in the company of four Park Wardens in Waterton National Park in September of 1983, and yet has implanted this dangerous dogma into the advice given by Waterton guides, and probably other guides in the Rocky Mountain Parks.

    I certainly don’t want to see Polar Bears exterminated. But neither do I want people to be deprived of adequate protection against them. And I see no evidence in this report that improving the bears’ climactic conditions will in any way curb their interest in human flesh.

    • Having read through the report now, my first impression is well confirmed. It consists of a collection of arbitrary and largely useless pseudo-statistics that serve mostly to confuse the reader. For example, the following list of victim behaviours is said to have “contributed” to the attacks in “30 of 51 attacks”:

      “…was unarmed, carried inadequate firearms, or was inexperienced with the firearms carried…”

      How this contributed to the attacks is not clarified. Presumably, the bears are thought to have sensed whether the person was armed, and whether the arms and the victim’s mastery of them were adequate…

      Data that would help the reader make sense of this, such as the type of firearms carried, their caliber and case capacity, whether sidearms or long guns, or both, or even how the “researchers” established the adequacy of the firearms and the skill of their owner, are not given.

      In short, this report is a sad reflection on what passes for wildlife management science these days. And this sort of pseudo-science was in the making long before “climate change” became the rallying cry of environmental science.

    • No Brown Bears in Waterton NP, only Black Bears (which are almost harmless) and Grizzlies, which emphatically are not.
      Brown Bears are almost harmless. In Sweden for example four people have been killed by bears in the last 200 years. Three of those were hunters who had previously shot and wounded the bear. Both moose and wasps kill more people.

      • @ tty

        You’re badly misinformed. Grizzlies ARE Brown Bears . There is only one recognized species that encompasses all the brown bears in the world. It’s Ursus Arctos. And, as I said above, there is some evidence that polar bears are just another recent regional variant of the species, and are still capable of interbreeding with brown bears.

        As for their dangerousness,

        Read the book, The Bear’s Embrace


        This has a detailed account of the 1983 Waterton grizzly mauling which Steven Herrero investigated (inadequately armed, BTW – there was reportedly one scoped rifle among the four Park Wardens he accompanied, and the rifleman got one lucky shot off at fifty feet). The grizzly was a young 200 lb female with a sheep kill near the hiking trail, and charged the group from close cover.

        The author’s brother was Superintendent of Banff National Park (as of 2015). And despite his sister’s faultless tragic encounter (only Park Wardens are allowed to carry firearms for protection in Canada’s national parks) he has always been a staunch defender of the Parks Canada/Steven Herrero party line – that grizzlies are not dangerous…

        She lost an eye and half her face, endured more than a dozen operations, and was left with a shattered life and body.

        There have been several more horrific grizzly maulings in the Canadian Rockies since then, including two hunters stalked, killed, and partially eaten while field dressing an elk in the Palliser region of British Columbia, and an experienced hiker whose face was ripped off by a grizzly in the West Castle drainage of Alberta. These three victims were possibly also “inadequately armed”, since Canadian police administrative policy (despite the law) denies both hunters (including bow and crossbow hunters!) and hikers the right to carry protective sidearms.

        Imagine being attacked by a grizzly at dusk while field dressing a large animal, with a scoped rifle as your only weapon, or in your hiking tent at night, with the same rifle at your side. I can’t imagine what sort of training you would need to “adequately” master these situations…

        As for black bears being “almost harmless” – there have been far more recorded attacks by black bears over the past century and more fatal ones. A 27 year old mountain biker was killed and partly eaten on the slopes of Panorama Ski Resort West of Invermere, B.C. a few years ago. And there have been several black bear maulings of joggers within the Banff townsite over the past decade , none associated with cubs, BTW. But I guess this could be counted in the “contribution by running away” category, since the bear obviously can’t be expected to know that the humans are not fleeing it.

      • “Species” is a rather loose term, with fuzzy boundaries. Grizzly and Polar bears are mostly separate breeding populations, as are wolves and coyotes. WUWT has had discussions on “red wolves” in the recent past, and I think getting too arbitrary on definitions is a lost cause.

  29. “Increased concern for both human and bear safety is warranted in light of predictions of increased numbers of nutritionally stressed bears spending longer amounts of time on land near people because of the loss of their sea ice habitat.”
    Logic would suggest that increased concern would be due to increasing encounters between humans and bears due to the fact that bear populations quintupled over the past 60 years.

  30. Polar bears are the only true predators of the bruin clan. They will quite readily hunt humans, even having never seen them before. Kind of a result of living in regions dominated by polar ice where any bit of protein is fair game. Polar bears are among the last large carnivores you’d want to encounter in the wild.
    It’s always been the case. Nothing to do with Climate Change.

  31. @ Tom Halla
    July 17, 2017 at 11:25 am said

    ‘“Species” is a rather loose term’.

    Not really. It’s a valuable term that’s been loosely/carelessly used by many, unfortunately.

    But the generally accepted meaning puts all animals capable of producing fertile offspring together in the same species. And nowadays that’s fairly easy to test.

    What’s fuzzy about that?

    What’s fuzzy is our accepted list of species, and biologists’ sense of priority.

    • With coyotes and wolves, they are different species by some criteria, but clearly interfertile when they do breed. The reproductive isolation, as far as I know, is that wolves do not tolerate coyotes when the wolves are sufficiently abundant to control a territory. Where wolves are fairly scarce, one ends up with “red wolves” coyote/wolf crosses. It is not a hard line.

      • Tom Halla
        July 17, 2017 at 3:42 pm said

        “With coyotes and wolves, they are different species by some criteria, but clearly interfertile when they do breed”
        “interfertile: two animals are interfertile if they would be able to produce an offspring, if they were allowed to mate or were artificially inseminated. If they are both the same sex, they are interfertile if each could produce an offspring with the appropriate sex parent of the other.”

        By this definition, donkeys and domestic horses are “interfertile”, so are lions and tigers.

        the page’s author goes on to say:

        “…Also, you’ll notice the definition I provided does not have the qualification that the offspring be fertile”.

        a sidebare adds:

        “Taxonomic distinctions between species can be arbitrary.

        The gray wolf, coyote, red wolf, and domestic dog can all freely interbreed with one another, will produce fertile offspring…The coyote is rather arbitrarily considered a separate species from the gray wolf…

        The domestic dog lost its recognition as a separate species in 1993, and is now considered a subspecies of gray wolf.”

        So there you have it, there is a meaningful definition of “species”, and an arbitrary, confusing one, based on historical usage. Since the historical usage is widely varied by region and language, the potential confusion is vast.

        Coyotes and wolves are not separate species by any criteria, unless it were that they don’t normally interbreed. But if we accept that as a scientific indication of “species”, then many human populations would have to be reclassified as separate species.

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