If a bear charges, stand your ground and prepare to fight. Bluff charges are rare.
Safety in Polar Bear Country
We’re not sure if this is the kind of advice we want to hear.
The first zodiac ashore always carries the bear guards. Dressed in bright jackets, with rifles and radios, they hike to the highest points of land around the place they came ashore scanning for polar bears and, in Labrador, black bears that like to hunt.
As the zodiacs hit the shore, we are instructed on the protocol of the place -- where to go, where not to go, where the safe areas are (always within the perimeter established by the guards who continue to scan for bears). The guards are drawn from SOI staff, including a university professor, an Inuk hunter and athlete, and folk singer.
In Labrador, where the willows and birch once clung to the ground as a strategy to optimize heat retention. The climate has been warming over the last decade or so and the bushes have grown to the point that they now make good cover for polar bears and black bears. In other parts of the country, black bears are scavengers. In the Torngats they are carnivores and they like to lie low in the bush and wait for unsuspecting caribou. Or hikers.
Many of the Inuit elders we spoke to talked about how “there never used to be a lot of plants”. Now the bushes make it difficult to travel and they are blamed for the infestation of mosquitoes and flies that has happened over the last couple of years.
Given these changes, a ring of bear guards seems like a good idea. Parks Canada, which runs the Torngat National Park in partnership with the Nunatsiavut Government, has its own bear guards who accompany hikers wherever they go. It’s not a free service and must be added to the cost of getting to this remote corner of Canada.
Other interesting facts from the Parks Canada manual include: If you find a dead body with a missing head, it was killed by a polar bear. A missing haunch means it was killed by a grizzly bear.
We’re not sure how useful this information is either, but it might be interesting to throw into a post-expedition presentation.