Polar Bears are regarded as most dangerous of all bears, especially when they are hungry. They are strong enough to take off a man’s arm with single swipe from their paw and unlike other bears seek out humans after picking up their scents.

Several oil workers in Alaska and tourist visiting northern Norway have been killed by polar bears. In the mid 1990s two people, neither of them tourists, were killed by polar bears. An unarmed woman was killed while hiking near Longyearbyen in Svalbard, Norway and few months later a Norwegian was killed and Swede badly mauled by a bear that had been shot. A woman was trapped in an outhouse by a bear until her boyfriend chased it off and group of college student drove off a bear after banging it on the head with a heavy cooking pot.

Neil Syson wrote in the Sun: Polar bears are opportunistic eaters whose territory in the Arctic is being eroded by global warming. If they are hungry they go looking for food — so they are inevitably drawn to human camps. These sites take precautions with trip wires and flares. But bears become accustomed to such things. And if they are suddenly confronted by humans and get panicked or frightened they will lash out. It takes only one swipe from their enormous paws to kill, never mind those teeth and powerful jaws. When we venture into their terrain, we do so at our own risk. But bears do not deliberately seek to kill humans. [Source: Neil Syson, The Sun, August 7, 2011]

In June 2000, a girl loses leg in polar bear attack at a zoo in Kazakstan. Associated Press reported: “A polar bear bit off an 11-year-old girl's leg Tuesday as she fed it dried apricots at a zoo in southern Kazakstan, a news report said. The bear, possibly agitated by temperatures that reached 104 degrees, attacked the girl when her leg got stuck between the bars of its cage, Khabar state television said. The girl was not identified in the report. She was hospitalized and underwent surgery, but her life was apparently not in danger, the report said. It said she talked to doctors afterward. The girl said she had often fed the polar bears at the zoo, located in the southern Kazak city of Chimkent, and had never felt threatened by them. [Source: Associated Press, June 27, 2000]

Polar Bear Attacks in Norway

Svalbard has experienced a number of polar bear attacks. There were four reported deaths from attacks in the region between 1995 and 2011. The 3,000 population of Longyearbyen routinely carry rifles for protection. One local told Sky news in 2011: “Last summer a man was attacked by a polar bear but survived. He was taken in the mouth of the bear and his friend shot it. “The problem is, when the ice goes, the bears cannot catch food. “People don’t really know how dangerous they are.”[Source: Sky News]

In 1994, a Norwegian woman was mauled to death by a polar bear and two other people were killed in 1995. Other non-fatal attacks have also occurred. Since 1996, tourists visiting the region have received a brochure warning them of polar bears and the governor's office advises tourists to carry a rifle and a signal pistol.

In 1998, The Telegraph reported: “A polar bear has been shot dead after it attacked a camp housing 17 tourists and glacier researchers off Norway's northern coast. The three-year-old animal, weighing 282lb, first appeared at the camp in the Hornsund national park in southern Spitsbergen in on Friday evening but was scared off by warning shots. It reappeared in the early hours of Saturday morning, scavenging for food in the mess tent. Two camp members fired warning shots but the bear rushed at one of them. Both men fired at it, killing it instantly. Rune Hansen, the region's acting district governor, said: "It was very thin. You have to be careful with such a hungry young male. It had just been abandoned by its mother and had not yet learned to fear people." Polar bears are protected in the region and it is illegal to shoot them unless lives are in immediate danger. [Source: The Telegraph, August 19, 1998]

In March 2015, a polar bear dragged a Czech tourist out of his tent as he slept on Svalbard, clawing his back before being driven away by gunshots, as a huge number of tourists descnded on the island before a solar eclipse there. “It was going for my head. I used my hands to protect my head,” Jakub Moravec told the Associated Press from his hospital bed in the Svalbard archipelago’s main town. He turned over to reveal shallow gashes on his back. [Source: Associated Press, March 19, 2015]

Associated Press reported: Moravec was among a group of six on a combined ski and snow scooter trip on the remote islands. The group was camping north of Longyearbyen. No one else was injured in the attack. Zuzana Hakova, a member of the group sleeping in a different tent, told local newspaper Svalbardposten that her mother shot three times at the bear, prompting the animal to flee. The bear was eventually found and killed by authorities, said police spokesman Vidar Arnesen. Aksel Bilicz, manager of the Longyearbyen hospital, said, “I think there’s been a tendency, even before the eclipse, that a lot of people come here and they don’t know where they’re going. Both the weather conditions and the bears can be very dangerous.” Lodging on Svalbard has been sold out for years ahead of the eclipse. Visitors who choose to sleep outdoors receive stern warnings from authorities that people must carry firearms while moving outside of settlements.

British Teenager Killed in a Polar Bear Attack on Spitsbergen

In August 2011, a British schoolboy was killed in a polar bear attack on Spitsbergen island, Norway. Neil Syson wrote in the Sun: “Eton schoolboy Horatio Chapple, 17, of Salisbury, Wilts, died after the beast clawed its way into his tent as he slept. Four other young people on a British Schools Exploring Society expedition were injured in the attack on Spitsbergen island. The bear was shot dead by a trip leader. It emerged last night schoolboy Patrick Flinders saved himself by punching the 40-stone creature on the nose. [Source: Neil Syson, The Sun, August 7, 2011]

Thirteen young people were in four tents at Von Postbreen, Spitsbergen — an island 600 miles from the North Pole in the Svalbard archipelago — when the bear attacked. They were taking part in a British Schools Exploring Society adventure holiday.The injured survivors, who all have head wounds, were named as trip leaders Michael “Spike” Reid, 29, and Andrew Ruck, 27, and students Patrick and Scott Smith, 17. The huge male bear struck at the unsuspecting camp at 7.25am. Youngsters aged 16 to their early twenties scattered as the beast rampaged after a warning tripwire system failed. One of the two older group leaders managed to shoot the bear dead — but not before being badly injured.

Two air ambulance medical teams including neurosurgeons were scrambled from Tromso on the mainland. Survivors were taken to the town of Longyearbyen, 25 miles away, and then on to University Hospital in Tromso. Remote Von Postbreen can only be reached by snowmobile or by air in winter, although boats sail from Longyearbyen in summer.

The British Schools Exploring Society was founded in 1932 by a member of Captain Scott’s final Antarctic expedition of 1910-13. Patrons and honorary members include Sir David Attenborough and David Cameron. The students were part of a larger group of 80 aged between 16 and 25 who each paid £2,900 to join the expedition, which began on July 23 and was scheduled to run until August 28. The students studied geology, hydrology, meteorology & snow science. Survivor Spike Reid has been leading expeditions for seven years. BSES, a charity based in West London, provides a number of extreme tours for young people and sends many on the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. The trips are aimed at “the development of young people through the challenge of living and working in remote and testing areas”.

Accounts of theSpitsbergen Polar Bear Attack

Svalbard Islands Governor Lars Erik Alfheim said: “There were 13 young people staying at the camp – boys and girls – and they were all in their tents when the animal struck. The young man who died had severe head wounds. The four injured males also had head wounds but their injuries are not believed to be life-threatening...It is not unusual to have polar bear attacks in the area.” In the autumn of 2010 “two people were badly mauled but they survived. The polar bear may have travelled up towards the camp on drift ice. It may have been hungry, we do not know. The people were asleep in their tents and were taken by surprise. It is always daylight here in summer, so it was not a case of them being attacked in the dark.” [Source: David Pilditch, The Express, August 6 2011]

Terry Flinders, the dad of Patrick, 16, said last night: “According to the doctor, Patrick was trying to fend off the polar bear by hitting it on the nose. “The bear attacked him with its right paw across his face and his head and his arm. It grabbed hold of the other boy and just killed him. Perhaps he was the closest one.” [Source: Neil Syson, The Sun, August 7, 2011]

Mr Flinders, of Jersey, went on: “The bear got into the tent where Patrick was. If he’d looked at Patrick, he was the chubbiest one — he probably had more meat on him, bless him. 'Patrick was probably in the middle, because it grabbed hold of his head next, and then his arm. I don’t know how Patrick got out to be honest — unless it was when the guy came in and shot the bear with a rifle. But the young lad was already dead. The leader who killed the bear was mauled and he’s really, really bad.” Police were alerted using a satellite phone and arrived by helicopter to a scene of carnage.

Eric Nygaard, a local official, said the British party had been staying near Hampus Mountains. He said: “The bear attacked while they were all inside. It ignored traps placed around the canvases to scare it off. “The bear was shot by one of the survivors and it slumped dead between two of the tents.” Polar explorer Tom Avery said: “Maybe the bear caught them unawares and they did not have a chance to see it coming and frighten it away. You are constantly aware of the threat, or scouting the terrain. Svalbard is very remote. It has the largest concentration of bears in the world.”

Kyle Gouveia, 17, who was on the expedition but came home early with frostbite, said the group was given shooting practice on the second day of the trip in case a polar bear attacked. They also had “bear watches” at their base camp in Svalbard and practised using “bear flares”.

Polar Bear Attacks Submarine

In May, 2003, a plar bear attacked an American submarine that broke hrough the ice near Prudoe Bay, Alaska during a training exercise. George Gordon wrote in the Daily Mail, “To a peckish polar bear padding along in search of a meal, it looked like lunch was about to be served from the chill cabinet. There, suddenly emerging out of the icecap, was what you might call the world's biggest submarine sandwich. [Source: George Gordon, Daily Mail, May 29 , 2003]

“Wasting no time, the furry giant - standing some 71/2ft tall on its hind legs - clamped its paws around the tempting shape and sank its teeth into it. Unfortunately for the bear, this was no super-sized snack, but a real submarine - and the bit that it was biting was the hardened steel rudder. So as it chomped away, its only reward was a sore jaw. The rudder belonged to the USS Connecticut, one of the world's most powerful submarines, which had broken through the ice in Prudhoe Bay, off north Alaska, during an American naval exercise.

“The first parts of the $1.2 billion nuclear-powered attack vessel to surface were the rudder, at the back, and the sail - the raised forward section containing the conning tower. When the periscope went up, its inbuilt camera captured the remarkable images of the bear making a meal of the vessel. Eventually, the animal abandoned its metallic munching and padded off across the ice ridges in search of a tastier snack of seal. The navy later reported that damage to the 353ft-long Connecticut - which has a crew of more than 120 and is armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles and torpedos - was minimal.”

Tourist Fends Off Attacking Polar Bear with a Pocket Knife

In July 2001, tourists were attacked by a polar bear in Iqaluit, Nunavut on Baffin Island in northern Canada. The tourists were jarred from their sleep around 3 a.m. when the bear smacked their tent, according to the local hunters and trappers association. The campers said they fought the animal off with a pocket knife, and then ran to an police detachment for help.

The CBC reported: “Some tourists hurt in a polar bear attack in Nunavut think the injuries could have been avoided if wildlife officers had warned them the animal was in the area. Early Friday, a polar bear clawed through two tents in the Katannilik Territorial Park Reserve, frightening the campers inside. A woman and man inside screamed, prompting the bear to run to a second tent where two friends were sleeping.” [Source: CBC, July 29, 2001]

“As the animal began attacking the second couple, the man in the first tent grabbed a small pocket knife and ran towards them. "I had a knife, so I started to stab the bear under his lower jaw," recalled Eric Fortier on Saturday. The blade was only about eight centimetres. "It seemed to have worked. He went away after that. When you see your friends getting hurt you have to do something."

“Two people remain in hospital in Iqaluit, about 100 kilometres from the camp site. Alain Parenteau, 31, has injuries to his head, neck, and side. Patricia Doyon, 25, has more than half a dozen gashes to her back and leg. "When the bear pushed me to the ground, I was just thinking that it's not possible, that it cannot end like this," Doyon told CBC Radio from her hospital bed. Both are expected to be OK, according to doctors, although Parenteau narrowly missed having a jugular vein cut.

The four tourists, all from Quebec, had been on a canoeing trip in the North. Wildlife officials said it's unusual for a polar bear to be this far inland in July. Fortier is relieved that everyone survived, but he wonders whether the traumatic event could have been avoided. He was told that another group of tourists had warned wildlife officers about the polar bear on Thursday, and thinks everybody in the region should have been alerted. "We were registered with the Katannalik Park. They knew we were out there," Fortier said. "Obviously we were at the wrong place at the wrong time. But I think it would have been possible to have some type of warning about bear sightings."

Authorities said they did patrol the area after the initial report of a polar bear, but didn't find the animal. The park remained closed as wildlife officers continued to track the wounded bear. People who live in nearby Kimmirut have been warned not to wander outside their community. Last weekend, guides shot and killed a polar bear in northern Labrador after it tried to enter a tent full of tourists from Europe.

Polar Breaks into Homes in Newfoundland

In March 2012, a polar bear killed a sheep, a lamb and a couple of dogs at a nearby farm, and broke windows at several other homes in Goose Cove, a tiny hamlet on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland. Allison Cross wrote in the Ottawa Citizen, “A tiny Newfoundland community was roused from its sleep early Thursday morning when a male polar bear began a rampage, breaking into a home and attacking farm animals. Daniel Reardon said his cousin Louis, who lives nearby, was awoken at 4 a.m. by his son, who was screaming that there was a polar bear in the kitchen of their Goose Cove home. Louis fired his shotgun several times above the bear’s head, Daniel said, which scared the animal off. Louis’ other son and daughter, and her young children, were also asleep inside the home. [Source: Allison Cross, Ottowa Citizen, March 29, 2012]

“This was a rogue bear. He was looking for trouble,” Daniel told the National Post. “He didn’t even bother to stop to eat. It was a dangerous situation.” Daniel said he carried a firearm while the bear was still on the loose. Police received the call about the bear at about 4:30 a.m. and promptly informed provincial conservation officers, said Sgt. Marc Coulombe of the Newfoundland RCMP. Conservation officers made the decision to kill the bear, Sgt. Coulombe said. “We’ve had polar bears pass through the community but they never bothered anybody,” Daniel said. “We’ve never had trouble like this before.”

Bear Attack in Newfoundland

In July 2013, Matt Dyer, a lawyer and naturalist from Main, was attacked by a polar bear in Torngat Mountains National Park, Newfoundland. According to the Sierra Club: Dyer went to sleep with bears on his mind. He had seen one on the hills above camp. The way the tents were clustered together, with an electric, bear-deterring fence surrounding them, was a constant reminder that humans could easily become prey. When he woke up around 2:30 that morning, the first thing he saw—the only thing—was a silhouette on his tent wall. He yelled, "Bear in the camp!" And then it dragged him into the animal world. It was biting his head through the tent, and he covered his head with his hands, but it kept mouthing him, crushing his left hand almost completely and tossing him around like a doll. His head was in its maw, his body now scooped in its arms. He could feel its fur on the other side of the tent fabric. It was tugging on his skull, trying to separate him from the loose outer layer of nylon skin. Tug. Tug. Tug. [Source: Sierra Club]

“The bear flew backward and Dyer with it. They hit the ground as one. He felt a sudden sharp pressure in his chest—his lung collapsing. His jaw cracked in the bear's jaw. And now it had him clean by the head and was galloping toward the beach. The land went by. His eyes were fixed toward the bear's rolling abdomen, a convexity of wet, creamy fur. It's taking me into the water, he thought. That's what it would do with a seal. It wants to get me away from those people. The bear was exerting itself tremendously now. It huffed hot exhales that flowed over Dyer's nose and ears. The stench of dead fish felt thicker with each of its breaths.

“Any moment, lights is out. You are gonna die. A bone cracked in his skull or neck. There was no pain. None at all. It seemed fitting that he'd go out as a piece of ocean meat. The bear huffed harder. He could feel it struggling with him—an oversize, bony seal. They were still moving toward the beach. A wave of cool air came off the water. They were getting closer.

“Then a flash screamed through the navy blue night and he fell to the sandy grass. Muted voices came from far away. Where'd it go? He couldn't move. He couldn't turn to look. There were giant footsteps somewhere off behind him. He was covered in a clear, gelatinous, fishy-smelling goop. It was gobbed in his hair and streaking the length of both arms. Saliva. The footsteps got quieter, then louder. Somewhere at the edge of his vision, another flash lit the sky. The footsteps went silent.

“Rick Isenberg, a trip participant from Scottsdale, Arizona, who happened to be a physician, tended to Dyer's wounds. There were punctures from the bear's teeth up and down his arms and on his head and neck. Meanwhile, Chase was on the phone trying to get a helicopter. Marilyn Frankel, an exercise physiologist from Oregon, stood guard on a rock, her hand wrapped around the cocked flare gun, her body rotating slowly in the darkness. After an hour, Isenberg declared Dyer stable, and at 8 a.m., a helicopter came and lifted Dyer and Isenberg away. The rest of the group waited almost eight more hours before a boat picked them up.”

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated May 2016

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