A polar bear punched out the window of a parked Royal Canadian Air Force search and rescue helicopter on 16 September in northern Labrador, which should be a reminder that these bears are extremely powerful and potentially dangerous.
If you ever thought you would be safe in a cabin or vehicle if a polar bear really wanted in, you might want to think again and remember that residents of the Arctic put up with this risk of polar bear attack, intrusion and damage all year long (Crockford 2019). And it’s not because the bears are simply ‘curious’.
Two photos below from Svalbard: of a bear that climbed onboard a boat moored offshore in 2019 while its occupants had lunch on the beach (damaging the hydraulic steering, vinyl seats, heating system, canopy, and an inflatable raft), and of a cabin ransacked by a polar bear in 2017 after it ripped the door off its hinges. Since it is my understanding that cabin owners in Svalbard are not permitted to leave stored food in unoccupied buildings, the attractants in these empty cabins must be other things that contain oil, like cleaning products, vinyl furniture, and candles.
From CBC News (30 September 2020), my bold:
“A CH-149 Cormorant search and rescue helicopter was damaged earlier this month by what appears to have been a puzzled polar bear. The aircraft belong to 413 Squadron, which is based in Greenwood, N.S.
It spent the night at a remote airstrip in Saglek, Newfoundland and Labrador on Sept. 16, said Lt.-Col. Brent Vaino, the squadron commander. The aircraft was supposed to land on a helipad at an automated NORAD radar station near the remote community, but poor weather over northern Labrador prevented the crew from reaching it. They were detoured to an airstrip closer to sea level.
“The crew had to park the aircraft down below, not up at elevation like they wanted to,” said Vaino. “Because of that, it’s an area with a body of water on either side and polar bears do occasionally transit on either side of them, and this case that’s what happened.”
In the darkness, while the crew slept at the radar station, the bear chose to conduct a snap inspection of the brightly painted helicopter, causing what the air force said was “superficial damage” when it pushed on the side door.
Vaino said he believes the animal was curious and likely not hungry. The bear managed to pop out an emergency exit window and rip the cover off the nose cone.
“The polar bear did not get inside the helicopter and there were no crew members in the vicinity at the time,” said the air force’s Twitter post, which was accompanied by a series of photos that show the damaged side of the helicopter and the window with an oily paw smear.”
The speculation that the bear was “more curious than hungry” does not take into account the fact that polar bears, while definitely curious, are highly attracted to smells from made-made petroleum products including oils and lubricants, vinyl seats, plastic-coated cables, antifreeze and insulation (Truett 1993). Snowmachines are often damaged by polar bears, probably because they simply reek of oil, which to them means food – see photo below from January 2019 of the damage to a snowmachine in Alaska.
Note that the area of northern Labrador where the RCAF helicopter was damaged was where an almost-fatal polar bear attack occurred in late July 2013 that was later sensationalized in a book and falsely claimed to be a climate change incident. The excerpt (below) from my Range Magazine article on this incident (Crockford 2015) may help you remember:
“Seven hikers, two of whom were the expedition’s Sierra Club leaders and another was a board member for the book’s eventual publisher, set out on a two-week-long adventure.
The victim was Maine lawyer Matt Dyer, a self-described “liberal activist” and long-time Sierra Club member.
Dyer suffered two broken neck vertebrae, a crushed jaw and broken bones in his left hand. One of the other hikers, an MD, was able to stabilize Dyer’s injuries until he could be airlifted to Montreal for more extensive treatment. He eventually recovered.”
Crockford, S.J. 2015. “A Harrowing Encounter”. Range Magazine, Spring issue.
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. Pdf here.