Newfoundland conservation officers right to kill polar bear in hunting mode

Apparently, some locals were upset that a polar bear that refused to be scared away from a Newfoundland community over the weekend was shot as it advanced on conservation officers and a crowd of onlookers who refused to disperse (see updated report here on recent Newfoundland polar bear sightings, with annotated map).

Catalina map and bear shot location Nfld

Polar bear shot by wildlife officers near Catalina after being deemed public safety risk” (CBC 10 April 2017)

What these animal lovers may not realize is that Newfoundland in March and April is not a Churchill-like situation: polar bears are in strong hunting mode right now.

Polar bears in late winter and spring have an immense drive to kill and eat as much as possible. Even bears that look well fed will continue to kill and eat. Enticing smells attract them onshore as they investigate any food possibility (see list below).

Seriously, you don’t want that food possibility to be you.

Polar bears can go from watching to charging, in the blink of an eye. You can’t outrun one. Killing quickly is what they do and they are immensely strong. Polar bears generally go for a killing bite to the head. Things to think about when a polar bear is prowling your community…
Like big cats, polar bears are also stealth hunters and will use any object on the landscape to hide behind to make a surprise attack. On the ice, that would be hummocks of buckled ice or blocks of old ice caught in the pack. But on land, especially in communities occupied by people, there are hiding places everywhere: houses, cabins, sheds, garages, vehicles of all kinds, bridges, bushes, patches of trees, bus shelters.

Here is a list of the kinds of things that attract polar bears by smell (see previous posts here and here) but it’s not exhaustive:

Caches of frozen meat
Hunting refuse
Odors of cooking food
Food fed to dogs
Dogs (see this recent incident)
Human menstrual blood (see Cushing 1979, pdf below)
Stored food
Human graves (cemeteries)
Oils and lubricants
Vinyl seats (see photos below, from Melrose, Newfoundland last week)
Plastic-coated cables

Photos below by Shelly Ryan of Melrose (4 April 2017) showing things that attract polar bears onshore:

Melrose nfld Polar Bear 01 snowmobile_2017 April 3_Shelly Ryan shared photo CBC

Melrose nfld Polar Bear 02_2017 April 3_Shelly Ryan shared photo CBC

This photograph was taken in the dead of winter (February 2013), with lots of sea ice offshore, by a remote camera maintained by Doug Clark (U. Saskatchewan) on the shore of Western Hudson Bay, which probably attracted the bear in the first place:

Doug Clark photo polar bears onshore in Feb 2013 Wapusk NP

This half-finished cabin attracted a fat young female bear in eastern Hudson Bay in late February, also with lots of ice offshore:

Bear onshore end Feb 2017_CBC photo facebook

Those upset about the bear that was shot in Catalina included Brandon Collins, a photographer who took many pictures on Saturday of the bear, which he shared with media outlets that morning, here and here, and below). He was most vocal in expressing his displeasure. In my opinion, that’s what can happen when people get emotionally attached to dangerous wild animals: they react emotionally when things go sour. Too often, wildlife photographers don’t maintain the bit of detachment they need.

Little Catalina pb 8 on the rocks April 2017 Brandon Collins_The Pilot

Here is the statement issued by the local government minister, Neil King, which I support wholeheartedly (as did most other people):


Cushing, B.S. 1979. The effects of human menstruation and other substances on polar bears – interim report. pgs. 93-102 in: Polar Bears: Proceedings of the 11th working meeting of the IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialists Group, 25-27 January, 1993, Copenhagen, Denmark. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge UK, IUCN. PDF here.

Truett, J. C. (ed.). 1993. Guidelines for Oil and Gas Operations in Polar Bear Habitats. Minerals Management Service Alaska, US Dept. of the Interior, Report 93-0008.

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