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Read more on polar bears

For more information on safety during fieldwork,
please contact:

Morten Rasch
Danish Polar Center
Strandgade 100 H
DK-1401 Copenhagen K

+45 3288 0110
     +45 2349 0645
+45 3288 0101


Safety during fieldwork in Greenland

If you encounter a polar bear bear this in mind:

    The polar bear is swift and agile, moves easily on rough terrain and steep slopes, and is an excellent swimmer. It is curious, has an acute sense of smell, and often investigates any strange object, smell, or noise.

    The polar bear will react according to how threatening it perceives the encounter with people to be. It will actively defend its immediate surroundings and the natural behaviour is to remove any threat by displaying or attacking.

    The polar bear may show various threat displays towards you, such as
    huffing, panting, hissing, or growling,
    looking directly at you with lowered head,
    turning sideways to display its size,
    slapping front paws on the ground,
    rapidly opening and closing its mouth, or
    charging to within a few meters.

    If the polar bear is not aware of you, leave the area if you can do so undetected. Quietly go back the way you came. Keep an eye on the bear and move only when the bear is not facing you and stop when it's looking in your direction. Stay downwind and stay calm.

    If the polar bear is aware of you, let the bear sense you by smell. Quietly move upwind. If possible, keep the bear in sight. The bear may, most likely, leave when it smells a person nearby. The polar bear may attack if you run or make sudden movements. Backing away slowly or standing your ground, depending on the situation, is more likely to result in the bear leaving.

    Do not try to run from a polar bear, unless you are sure to reach safety. The polar bear is fast and can outdistance you in a short distance. If the bear follows you, leave behind a pack or other personal gear to distract it. Leave food only as a last resort.

    In a close confrontation, the polar bear is likely to feel threatened. Ease the situation by acting as non-threatening as possible. Do not make sudden movements and avoid direct eye contact with the bear. Help the bear identify you as a person. Stay upwind if possible. Talk in a low, calm, but authoritative voice and slowly wave your arms. Do not make fast or sudden movements which might startle or provoke the bear. Make sure the bear has an open escape route. Back away slowly. When you have reached a safe position, try to scare the bear off with an appropriate deterrent.

    If you have an approaching polar bear at close range and the bear is treating you as potential food and you do not have a gun, DO NOT play dead. Instead, act aggressively and defend yourself with whatever means available. You want to appear dominant and frighten the bear. Jump up and down, shout, wave your arms. It may help to raise your jacket or pack to make you look bigger. Fight back, but only when the polar bear is stalking you showing clear signs that it considers you prey.

    If a polar bear charges, it will be at high speed and on all four legs. It does not charge on its hind legs. Many charges are bluffs. Bears often stop or veer to the side at the last moment. However, it may be difficult to know if a charge is a bluff until the bear is very close. If you are faced with a charging polar bear, you have two options: shoot to kill if you have a gun; or play dead if you are unarmed.

    The decision to shoot a polar bear is a personal decision, and must be made quickly. Wait until the bear is within 10-15 m before shooting. You may feel confident enough to wait and see if the charge was a bluff. Remember that an accurate shot fired at close range has a greater chance of killing a bear than one fired from further away.The first shot is the most important one. To kill a bear, kneel down and aim for the low neck, if the bear is broadside, or low centre neck between the shoulders, if the bear is facing you. If the bear goes down, keep shooting at vital areas until it is still.