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Polar Bears Versus People: Researchers Investigate Conflicts Between the Arctic’s Two Main Predators

Source: Hakai Magazine/Gloria Dickie - July 13, 2017 in Adventure

Polar Bears Versus People: Researchers Investigate Conflicts Between the Arctic’s Two Main Predators
Photo: Arturo de Frias Marques/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

On William Barents’s second Arctic expedition in 1595, the Dutch navigator’s crew had a deadly encounter. While searching for diamonds on an islet near Russia’s Vaygach Island three months into the journey, two of his sailors were resting in a wind-protected depression when “a great leane beare came sodainly stealing out, and caught one of them fast by the necke.” The bear killed and devoured both men, despite the crew’s attempt to drive the animal away The incident, recounted in Dutch officer Gerrit de Veer’s diary, became the first account of a polar bear attacking humans in recorded history.

More than 400 years later, humans now live and work in the Arctic in unprecedented numbers. At the same time, as sea ice diminishes in the Arctic Ocean, polar bears are spending more time on land. This change in behavior has wildlife managers worried that attacks could become more common in the far reaches of the North. No one, however, had been tracking the clashes between polar bears and humans.

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