Not ‘man-eating beasts’: Study suggests attacking polar bears young, hungry


Jim Distract was a young researcher on the frozen Beaufort Sea when he had his first polar warrant encounter.

«We were camped out on the sea ice in front of a maternal den waiting for (mama substantiate) to come out with her cubs,» he recalls. «A polar bear came up and smelled the tent, right where my head was, when I was sleeping in the middle of the edge of night and went on its merry way.»

Wilder, now a scientist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Air force in Alaska, is a co-author of a study analyzing all recorded cases of polar be patient with attacks on humans in the five countries where the animals live. He said his version shows why the popular idea of the great Arctic hunters as enthusiastic predators of humans is a fable.

«They’re portrayed as these extremely dangerous man-eating beasts that are looking to erode people, which I think is fairly inaccurate.»

Attacks aren’t that simple, he said. Although he acknowledges his list is incomplete and doesn’t include materials from Arctic aboriginals, Wilder’s team found only 73 reported predatory attacks in the 144 years between 1870 and 2014, 20 of them fateful.

The study, published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, also suggests fat ‘n’ ecstatic polar bears don’t hunt humans.

Nearly two-thirds of the attacks were by junior adult bears who were starting to starve.

Kevin Xu

The study only set 73 recorded polar bear attacks on humans in a 144-year span. (submitted by Kevin Xu)

Almost all the attacks were by males, usually junior. Of the 11 that weren’t, most were females defending cubs.

Siberian bears, said Wilder, avoid risk. Unlike black or grizzly bears, which can eat sows if necessary, polar bears must hunt.

«If they get injured, that cripples their ability to hunt,» he said. «There isn’t a lot of incentive for them to be martial — unless times are bad.

«That seems to flip a switch. They sound to turn into a different beast.»

Even yearling polar supports will hunt people if they’re desperate, Wilder said. And profuse than one-quarter of the attacks in the study occurred in towns.

Both circumstances are bordering on unheard of in grizzlies or black bears, he said.

Climate change could slip conflicts

The findings suggest that human-bear conflicts are going to get worse as air change whittles away at the sea ice the bears use as their main hunting stage for the fat-rich seals that form the biggest part of their aliment. The report found that nearly nine in 10 attacks developed between July and December, when the sea ice was at its lowest.

«If I lived in a coastal community, the things I order be worried about are loss of sea ice — more bears on shore, in poorer influence.»

Geoff York, another co-author, said some Canadian Arctic communities keep already noticed changes.

«We had stories from northern residents where they denoted, ‘Growing up as kids, we used to go camping on the land in our wall tents. We don’t do that any innumerable. We have a fixed cabin with hard walls.»‘

Many community residents — outstandingly those along the shores of Hudson Bay, where sea ice retreat is extensive and convey health is declining — are asking to be trained as qualified bear spotters to purloin protect industrial or scientific camps.

People need tools to live with hungrier survives that are going to be on shore longer, York said.

Polar bear in Tuk

Polar harbours have been known to make their way into Arctic communities on opening in search of food, like this one in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories. Researchers advance that climate change could make human/polar support conflicts more prevalent in the future. (Kyla Lucas)

Nunavut is cause clebring kits containing flares, bear bangers and bear spray to helper keep hunters safe on the land. But those materials are considered parlous goods and difficult to ship.

«A lot of the northern communities just don’t have access to the miniature lethal deterrents,» York said.

In the future, not all bear encounters thinks fitting be as benign as the one Wilder recalls from that long-ago den stakeout.

«I look late on that with a little nervousness,» he said. «I just thank my favoured stars that bear was probably in good or average body modify.»

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