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Efficacy of bear spray as a deterrent against polar bears

December 14, 2022

Although there have been few attempts to systematically analyze information on the use of deterrents on polar bears (Ursus maritimus), understanding their effectiveness in mitigating human-polar bear conflicts is critical to ensuring both human safety and polar bear conservation. To fill this knowledge gap, we analyzed 19 incidents involving the use of bear spray on free-ranging polar bears from 1986 to 2019 in Canada, Russia, and the United States to evaluate the effectiveness of bear spray as a polar bear deterrent. We found that bear spray was an effective deterrent in close-range encounters with polar bears, stopping undesirable behavior in 18 of 19 incidents. Bear spray effectively deterred both curious and aggressive polar bears, including polar bears attempting to attack people. The mean distance between user and bear at the time of spraying was 2 m (min–max = 0.2–10.0 m, mode = 1 m), though bears were usually first seen at greater distances. Bear spray was successfully deployed against polar bears in all 4 seasons. Wind affected spray performance in 1 of 19 of incidents. In 8 of 14 bear spray incidents, other deterrents were used without success before bear spray was used effectively to deter polar bears. No humans or polar bears were killed or injured in any of the incidents in which bear spray was used. We also analyzed 54 polar bear attacks and attempted attacks on humans where bear spray was not carried. The data suggest that in 93% of those incidents, the use of bear spray might have saved the lives of both the people and bears involved if it had been available and used. Our analysis improves our understanding of the effectiveness of bear spray for polar bear conflict mitigation.

Publication Year 2023
Title Efficacy of bear spray as a deterrent against polar bears
DOI 10.1002/wsb.1403
Authors James Wilder, Lindsey Mangipane, Todd C. Atwood, Anatoly A. Kochnev, Tom Smith, Dag Vongraven
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Wildlife Society Bulletin
Index ID 70239073
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB