Bear sighting activities are usually excursions within areas where you can find these animals and for which you are accompanied by a guide. There also hides where you can see the animals in their natural habitat within a safe distance. Important guidelines:
*stay alert and be aware of your surroundings
*approach slowly and quietly
*arrive and leave the place of sighting by the same route
*don’t follow or chase the animals
*try to position yourself so that the wind doesn’t take your scent towards the animal
*don’t feed the animal or carry food on you (more information below)
* remove any waste and food you may find from the area (more information below)
*use binoculars, telescope or a telephoto in order to see the animal from a safe distance
*don’t use a flash
*avoid loud conversations and abrupt movements
*don’t go near the animals and keep a minimum distance of 45 meters
*don’t try to get the animals’ attention
*don’t try to imitate the bears groan (neither to get its attention nor in case of attack)
*don’t try to get between the mother and its cub
*if you observe a change in attitude (even though you are respecting the distance) or an animal that changes its behaviour (stops eating, changes direction, watches you..) you must increase your distance
*in air sightings don’t fly too low or circle over the animal
*prepare an emergency plan with your group to be prepared in case of close encounters
*keep near your group
*keep your dogs on a leash at all times
It is preferable to use specific sightseeing places and hides in order to avoid any extra stress upon the animals giving them the choice of approaching or not.
When a bear becomes aware of our presence, it may look in our direction, lift its head and snout in order to smell us to identify exactly what we are. They may also lift their front legs in order to see and smell us better.
You have to remember that every animal has its own personality so take into consideration that the secure distance for one animal may not be the same for another one depending on their tolerance for human beings. Some bears may be sensitive to different types of vehicles and sounds whereas others may not. The further the distance from the bear the better because any change can provoke an unforeseen reaction.
REACTIONS TO BEARS
We can come across bears in an uncontrolled situation. In the majority of this cases, when the bears smell or hear the human being they run away before they are even noticed. Nevertheless you have to bear in mind that it is a wild animal and that they are dangerous and unpredictable. Here are some guidelines in case of coming across a bear:
For human-accustomed bears:
If they haven’t noticed us we must walk away quietly. In case they have noticed our presence we must speak with a low voice, move our arms and leave the area. If you are near a car or building hide inside.
In case of defensive bears:
If a bear identifies us as a possible threat they can act in a defensive way. It is important to know the animal’s defensive reactions, which include:
*blowing, heavy breathing, panting and growling
*breathing air out of their snout loudly
*biting at the air and clicking their jaws
*puckering their lips
*hitting the ground with their front paws
*shaking the vegetation around them
*lowering their heads and placing their ears backwards or towards the front looking straight at you
*quickly changing direction and speed and doing attack threats- running towards and away from you
In this case the animal wants us to leave. We should stop and face the animal. In case of being in a group of people you should stay and act as a group. Make sure the animal has a way out and back away slowly without losing sight of the animal. If possible carry a whistle or a siren.
In case of bear predators:
In this very remote situation the animal will attack people in order to kill. They don’t usually demonstrate defensive reactions, but they silently approach their objective. In this case you should leave the area in a car, canoe or other vehicles if possible. In case of leaving by foot you should:
*change your direction
*try to move away slowly without losing sight of the animal
*don’t run or climb trees (bears are quick and very good climbers)
*if it continues approaching, speak loudly and move in an aggressive way to intimidate the animal
*try to look bigger than you are (putting a bag or jacket above our heads)
*if the animal persists in attacking we should be aggressive and in order to dissuade him we should throw stones or any non-food objects at it. Shout, move your arms, hit the bear with sticks and use whistles or sirens.
*Never pretend to be dead
EXCURSIONS IN A BEAR TERRITORY- BE CAREFUL WITH THE FOOD!
Most black bear attacks on people are caused by them trying to get to their food. If you are camping it is important to keep your food and any other products that smell strongly (for ex. Toothpaste, soap…etc) in the boot of the car away from your camping area. If it is not possible you must hang the food inside a plastic bag at least 4 meters from the floor, 2 meters from any tree trunk and far away from the camping sight.
Many camps have bear-proof containers to avoid them from having access to the garbage and to avoid them from prowling the area.
*We should remove all our waste (even oil stains)
*If a bear becomes interested in our food we should move away from it
*It is important that the bear doesn’t get used to looking for food in the waste bins because that could lead to several problems including their death
*They can get used to eating human food even if they have only eaten it once
*There can be behavior changes leading to them to losing their fear of humans
*They may come closer and closer to people, become unpredictable and aggressive and even attacking humans. Often these animals have to be put to sleep.
*they can cause material damages
*they can teach this dangerous behavior to other bears
*they can be run over by cars
*they can become easy prey for hunters
*several studies have demonstrated that bears that eat off human food and garbage live less than those that don’t interact with humans
Considering their agility, how easy it is for them to run over any type of ground and their ability to swim, and the fact their diet is based on other animals, there are extreme precautions to take in consideration when you sight one.
Polar bears are very curious and potential predators. They don’t always have food at reach so this can cause nutritional stress increasing the risks when they are near humans.
We must not allow bears to come close to our vehicles or boats. That will decrease their fear and will increase their aggressiveness. To drive them off it is best to turn the engine on or honk. If the animal still doesn’t go away it is best to leave the place.
Sometimes they may approach us (stopping frequently on their way) to see what we are. We must stay still and transmit sureness. Speak with a firm voice and let them know that we are a human and not a prey. They will usually draw back once they have checked on us.
When observing polar bears while they are swimming, it is best not to get in their way, follow, chase or surround them.
The boats engines must be in a neutral position.
Whenever we find animals inside a burrow we must move away at least 1.6 km. Bothering the mother implies that she may abandon its offspring and, in consequence, they can die.
General information on Polar Bear watching: http://arctic.fws.gov/pdf/pbguidelines2011.pdf
Safety guidelines for Polar Bear Watching: http://arctic.fws.gov/pdf/pb_safety_09_final.pdf