Handling an encounter

Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site

PDF document: Safety in polar bear country (PDF, 330 KB)

Polar bears are the largest land carnivore in North America. An adult male typically weighs 300 to 450 kilograms, stretching three metres from nose to tail. They are strong, fast, agile on land or ice and are expert swimmers and divers. Their sense of smell is exceptional, and their eyesight comparable to a human’s. Polar bears are naturally curious, but not fearless as they have been labelled. They are shy and prefer to avoid confrontations with humans and other polar bears. Their primary prey is the ringed seal but they will also prey on birds, eggs, small mammals and even humans. They also scavenge anything from beached whales to human garbage. In the heat of summer, polar bears may appear slow and docile, but they are capable of moving swiftly and with purpose.

Before your trip, discuss possible plans of action for dealing with bears in a variety of circumstances and be sure everyone understands. The actions of each individual either contribute to or detract from the safety of everyone else. Stay calm and assess the situation. What is the bear doing? What is the bear's behaviour?

If a bear does not know you are there:

If a bear knows you are there and it shows signs of being curious, such as:


If the bear has been surprised at close range or shows signs of being agitated or threatened, such as:


If the bear shows signs of stalking or hunting you, such as:


If a bear charges:

Stand your ground and be prepared to fight! Focus on hitting the bear in sensitive areas, especially the face and nose. Bluff charges are rare.

Never get between a bear and her cubs Never get between a bear and her cubs.
© Wayne Lynch

Never get between a bear and her cubs.

If a female with cubs is surprised at close range or separated from her cubs she will likely attack to defend them.

In case of an attack

Please follow this emergency check list:

1. STAY CALM and call for help by radio or satellite phone. (Get contact numbers during your orientation to the park.)

2. Report location and time of incident.

3. Report number of people involved.

4. Report extent of injuries and property damage.

5. Check that all people in the group are accounted for.

6. Report numbers and last locations of all polar bears involved in the incident.

7. Report reason for the attack if known (Female protecting cubs, surprise, defending food source, etc.).

8. Report description of bears (male or female, size, markings, etc.).

9. Stand by to provide additional information to rescuers.

Commercial deterrents:

Once you are out of danger, call Polar Bear Alert at 204-675-2327.

If there were any injuries, call 911.

« Avoiding dangerous encounters 
Living and travelling in "The Polar Bear Capital of the World" »

For more information:

Location: Parks Canada
Box 127
Churchill, MB R0B 0E0
Phone number: 204-675-8863
Email address: manitoba@pc.gc.ca

Location: Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship
Box 70
Churchill, MB R0B 0E0
Phone number: 204-675-8897
Email address: mgi@gov.mb.ca
Website: https://www.gov.mb.ca/fish-wildlife/polar_bears/index.html 

Location: Town of Churchill
Box 459
Churchill, MB R0B 0E0
Phone number: 204-675-8871
Email address: townofchurchill@churchill.ca

Location: Chamber of Commerce
Box 271
Churchill, MB R0B 0E0
Phone number: 204-675-2022
Email address: churchillchamber@mts.net

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