Although polar bears are not native to Iceland, here are a few tips to know in case you come across one. It is important to know that polar bears are very curious. They see humans as a source of food and will gladly go in for a kill. They tend to be attracted to campsites, sounds, and colorful items which might include your outfit. Hence there are myths that a polar bear won’t attack if you go naked and run off. It is best to know that this myth is false. Here are a few things to do if you encounter a polar bear in Iceland.
- Stay calm. You have to figure out if the polar bear sees you or not. If it is looking in your direction, move away slowly. Running might trigger an attack. Polar bears are not slow-moving creatures. They weigh up to 800 kg and can easily outrun a human. They have a near speed of 40km/25 miles per hour. It is advisable to go in the opposite direction quietly while keeping your eyes fixed on the polar bear. Polar bears are sensitive to scents. If they do not see you, they won’t get aggressive. Two things to note, walk away slowly and make sure not to run.
- Keep a bear spray handy. A bear spray is made of capsaicin which is a high-level irritant ingredient. It not only does damage to the eyes, but it also affects the bear’s respiratory system. The pain from the bear spray is not permanent but gives you at most 45 minutes to get to safety. It is an important self-defense product. For better safety, use the bear spray only when the bear is fifteen feet from you. Create a demarcation between you and the bear using the spray. Remember to protect yourself as the inhalation of the bear spray can cause irritation to the eyes and nose. It can also lead to difficulty in breathing.
- Communicate clearly with your tour guide or the Iceland locals. If there has been any information on polar bears in the area (which rarely happens), ensure you are observant. One of the best advice is to avoid getting into an altercation with a polar bear or areas where sightings have been confirmed. If you have to look or are curious, use binoculars and make sure you have company.
- Avoid throwing rocks or items at polar bears. Instead, find a way to make yourself look bigger than the polar bear. It sees you as a prey. If the polar bear is circling you, prepare to fight with any weapon around you, flail your arms, and take postures that show you are not fragile. If possible, make loud noises and look around for a weapon (a flare gun or bear spray does the trick). Remember not to play dead. If you do this, the polar will proceed to approach you and this will result in getting harmed.
- Polar bears pick up scent and it is safer to position yourself downwind. This way, the wind is on your face and not on your back. It distracts the bear from you. If you are in a group, calmly tell the others about the location of the bear and think up possible exit routes.
Once you are safe, ensure you inform local authorities about the polar bear sighting. This helpful information will help to keep others safe and they will take necessary precautions. Although there have been no polar bears in Iceland since 2018, these tips will help prevent damage during a bear attack or sighting.