Thanks to Coca-Cola advertisements and the soothing voice of David Attenborough, we often forget that polar bears are carnivorous creatures that are capable of slaughtering and devouring gangs of seals every year. But let this story be a lesson in survival for anyone who happens to find themselves in a close encounter with the seemingly adorable bears. While on a hiking trip in northern Labrador this past July, American lawyer Matt Dyer was pulled from his tent and subsequently mauled by a polar bear. According to Parks Canada, the polar bear managed to pass a portable electrical fence to reach Dwyer and his group, who were in Torngat Mountains National Park.
While Dyer was being attacked, his quick-thinking hiking buddies fired flares to scare off the animal. After the bear dropped Dwyer, survival mode kicked in: “I wasn’t in any excruciating pain. I think your instinct is to do what these animals do—and that is to play dead. I think that that in many was that saved me,” Dwyer told the CBC.
A doctor in Dwyer’s hiking group was able to treat his wounds until a helicopter arrived to airlift him to a hospital in northern Quebec. After spending weeks in the hospital, Dyer faces a long recovery: he suffered from two cracked vertebrae, a collapsed lung, and a broken jaw that will take six to nine months to completely heal.
Polar bear attacks are very rare and in almost all cases, the bear was undernourished, frightened or provoked. Scientists expect encounters between polar bears and humans to increase as sea ice melts and hungry bears are forced ashore.