Do Polar Bears Hunt Humans?

Written by Brandi Allred
Published: September 28, 2022
© Vaclav Sebek/Shutterstock.com
Share this post on:

Polar bears are some of the most famous, feared animals on Earth. These bears, known scientifically as Ursus maritimus, live only in the coldest parts of the world, where they rely on sea ice and seals to survive. But, do polar bears hunt humans?

Here, we’ll find out whether polar bears are really something to be scared of, and whether or not they should be called maneaters. But first, we’ll find out a little more about these gigantic, fluffy, white bears that live in some of the most inhospitable places on Earth. We’ll discover what they eat, and how they spend their summers and winters.

Finally, we’ll take a look at the dangers facing polar bears today, and what you can do to help save this rapidly disappearing species. Read on to find out if polar bears hunt humans!

Where Do Polar Bears Live?

Apex predator: Polar Bear
The polar bear lives in the area surrounding the North Pole.

©Vaclav Sebek/Shutterstock.com

Polar bears are Arctic hunters. They live only in the northern hemisphere, in the area surrounding the North Pole. These massive bears can be found in northern Russia, Greenland, Norway, the far northern border of Canada, and even northern Alaska. Primarily, they live on floating sea ice in the Arctic Basin. Historically, polar bears and humans have not occupied the same territory. But, because of declining sea ice, polar bears increasingly come into conflict with humans. 

But, do polar bears hunt humans? Let’s learn a little more before finding out.

Seasonal Behavior

Closely related to the brown bear, polar bears are both keystone species and apex predators. They spend their winters hibernating in ice caves, with mothers and cubs hibernating together. When spring comes, the bears emerge. They spend nearly every waking hour between the spring thaw and the onset of winter hunting. This hunting is essential, as the bears need a large amount of blubber stored in their bodies to survive the long winter ahead. 

What Do Polar Bears Eat?

Polar bears are excellent hunters, but, do polar bears hunt humans? Primarily, they target fatty seals, like bearded and ringed seals. But, they’re opportunistic carnivores, and will also hunt any suitable animal that comes across their path. They’ll even eat carrion. When hunting, polar bears aim for silence and stealth. They wait patiently at seal breathing holes in the ice. When the seal comes up for a breath, the bear snatches them from the water and hauls them onto the ice to eat.

Do Polar Bears Hunt or Eat Humans?

Now for the big question: do polar bears hunt humans? The answer is, not really. One study showed that there were only 73 attacks on humans between 1870-2014, only 20 of which were fatal. Attacks were most often the consequence of hungry male polar bears, or, in some cases, females protecting their cubs. 

Unfortunately for lone humans in the Arctic, polar bears are indiscriminate predators. This means that, if they’re hungry, and the opportunity for a potential meal presents itself, they won’t pass it up. Still, attacks on humans are extremely rare. Researchers believe that one of the keys to keeping numbers low is to stress the importance of maintaining respect and caution when in a polar bear country.

Are Polar Bear Attacks on Humans Increasing Because of Climate Change?

Though there is no direct evidence that polar bears hunt humans more because of climate change, scientists are concerned. With global warming, the pressure on polar bears is increasing every year. This means that every year, they have less sea ice to travel across, and fewer opportunities to find food. Increasingly, polar bears are coming into human settlements looking for something to eat. 

So, although attacks on humans are rare, scientists believe they may increase as polar bear populations get more desperate for food. Unfortunately, any attack on a human often ends in the bear being euthanized. Let’s take a look at some of the key steps to staying safe in a polar bear country.

How to Stay Safe in Polar Bear Country

For most people, polar bears hunting humans is not something they have to consider. But, if you’re traveling in the far north of Norway, Russia, or any other polar bear habitat, you might want to brush up on bear safety. 

Like black bears or grizzly bears, polar bears are drawn to food; they have a superb sense of smell. Polar bears will travel miles in search of the source of a scent, so it’s vital that you keep all of your food tightly sealed. Further, food should be cooked in the open air, where smells can dissipate. When cooked in a tent, food smells tend to cling, which can draw bears.

Another important step to staying safe in a polar bear country is to never travel alone. Polar bears almost never attack if there is more than one person present. Don’t go off alone for any reason; polar bears are stealth hunters, and you might not realize they’re there until it’s too late.

Are Polar Bears Endangered?

Biggest Animals Ever to Walk the Earth: Polar Bear
Polar bears are listed as Vulnerable to extinction.

©Louise Ekeblad/Shutterstock.com

Currently, there are 19 populations of polar bear spread around the polar ice cap. There are approximately 26,000 polar bears left in the world; they’re currently listed as Vulnerable to extinction. The biggest threat to today’s polar bears comes from climate change and the decrease in sea ice caused by global warming. Polar bears are also under threat from habitat loss, unsustainable hunting practices, pollution, and increasing commercial use of their icy home.

What You Can Do to Help Polar Bears

We’ve learned the answer to the question: do polar bears hunt humans? In fact, your chances of being killed by a polar bear are extremely slim, even if you live or work in the Arctic. Polar bears are the perfect emblem of the incredible biodiversity our planet will lose if drastic steps to combat global warming are not taken soon. If you want to help save polar bears, and other species impacted by climate change, start by doing your research. Taking charge of your energy consumption and garbage production are some of the easiest things you can do to help combat both climate change and pollution.

Up Next

Polar Bear

What Do Polar Bears Eat?

Are Polar Bears Dangerous?


The Featured Image

Apex predator: Polar Bear
The Polar Bear is a solitary animal that can not only run at speeds of up to 25mph but its strong ability to swim at 6mph makes it a true apex predator within its environment. These semi-aquatic mammals can hunt both on the ice and in the water and have been known to swim vast distances across the open ocean in search of food.
© Vaclav Sebek/Shutterstock.com

Share this post on:
About the Author

Brandi is a professional writer by day and a fiction writer by night. Her nonfiction work focuses on animals, nature, and conservation. She holds degrees in English and Anthropology, and spends her free time writing horror, scifi, and fantasy stories.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. , Available here: https://wildlife.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wsb.783
  2. , Available here: https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/polar-bear
  3. , Available here: https://polarbearsinternational.org/