Polar bear behaviour

Prince of Wales Fort National Historic Site

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

There are many differences between black and grizzly bear behaviour and polar bear behaviour. Unlike other bears, the polar bears of Canada’s Arctic are true predators and can view humans as a potential food source. Playing dead will only put you at greater risk for an attack by a polar bear.

Polar bears often show no facial expressions or change in body language that will tell you what to expect. A “deadpan” look could mean that the bear is ambivalent, curious, protective or ready to attack. If you are close enough to see the face of a bear, you should be well within a safety zone and definitely not without protective surroundings.

Bears ambling across the ice or land are deceptively quick. Their strides are more than a metre long. They walk with their heads down, occasionally lifting them to look around. A bear moving toward a target will have its neck extended and look directly at the object/spot it is walking toward. A bear that has caught scent of you, or something of interest, will stop and lift its head, or may stand on its hind legs as it tries to pinpoint your location. Once it has acquired your location it may move toward you purposefully or may just be curious and move toward you while stopping frequently.

Polar bears are very skilled hunters. Seals or humans targeted as prey are usually not aware there is a polar bear in the vicinity until it attacks.

An adult male polar bear can weigh up to 600 kg and females are half to two thirds of that. Cubs, depending on their age, are between 25 and 100 kg. The size of a sub-adult polar bear is comparable to that of a large black bear or a medium sized grizzly bear. They are extremely powerful, agile and fast. Their environment is often drifting and broken ice so polar bears are adept at jumping and able to leap surprising distances.

The polar bears in the Churchill area are part of the Western Hudson Bay sub-population. They are one of 19 sub-populations of polar bears that inhabit the circumpolar area of the Arctic. Their main food is the ringed seal which they hunt on the sea ice. Every summer the ice on Hudson Bay melts and this entire population of polar bears is forced ashore. They remain on land until the bay freezes again in late November.

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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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