Due to the park’s remoteness, variable weather conditions, possible encounters with wildlife and longer emergency service response times, visitors must be well informed of the risks and dangers regarding activities in Nunavik parks.
Variable weather conditions
In Nunavik, weather conditions change constantly. As a result, expeditions are often adjusted to suit the weather. You should come prepared for everything, including sun, rain, wind and snow. If you’re planning a trip in a Nunavik park, be sure to bring a good measure of flexibility and willingness to change your schedule and plans as needed.
Extreme Arctic weather should be taken seriously. Frostbite can strike quickly in winter. Remember that the tundra offers no natural protection against the elements. The open space, coupled with a lack of visual markers, can make it easy for visitors to become disoriented. Fog can also make it impossible to see where you’re going. Wherever you go, make sure you have your communications, safety and orientation tools.
Coexisting with wildlife
Don’t forget that this is the animals’ natural habitat and you are the visitor. To coexist safely with local wildlife, you must behave responsibly and respectfully.
The black bear is the smallest and least threatening of the bear species found in North America. This mammal is usually shy or fearful of humans. Like all wild animals, however, black bears are unpredictable and can, in rare cases, become aggressive, violent and even dangerous. Most black bears that attack humans are adult males or females with cubs. Note that black bears are strong swimmers and that they can run up to 50 kilometres per hour. The life of a black bear revolves around the search for food. Black bears feed on berries, new shoots, insects, fish, animal carcasses and, occasionally, young deer. During warmer months, they have to build up their fat reserves so that they can survive the winter in their dens and, in the case of female bears, nurse their cubs. When they have trouble finding food in the forest, they do not hesitate to approach areas occupied by humans.
When a bear is a threat:
- A bear that has been surprised or approached too close.
- A female bear with her cubs that has been approached too close.
- A bear defending its food source (a carcass, for example).
- An injured, ill or hungry bear.
- A bear that considers humans prey.
Be cautious and avoid contact with bears by following these tips:
- Ask park staff if black bears or signs of their presence have been observed recently.
- Hike as a group.
- Always travel in daylight and avoid areas where visibility is limited.
- Be extra careful when walking near running water – bears often use watercourses to get around.
- Make your presence known by hanging something from your backpack that makes noise. Talk, sing or whistle while you walk.
- Watch for signs of bears (tracks, droppings, scratched or torn-up tree trunks).
- Avoid taking strong-smelling food or toiletries with you.
- Store food and garbage in bear-proof containers or sealed bags, and keep them far from your tent.
- Make sure your sleep area and food prep area are at least 50 metres apart. Keep your camping area clean. Wash your dishes and dispose of dishwater far from the campsite.
If you encounter a black bear:
- If the bear’s head is down and it is still active, then it hasn’t detected your presence yet. Stay calm and move quietly away.
- If the bear’s head is raised when you notice it, this means that it has heard something or picked up your scent. Stop walking. Make your presence known. Speak to it in a soft voice. Wave your arms so that it can identify you as a human. Back away slowly to a safe place or make a wide detour to avoid the area where the bear is. If this is impossible, stay still and wait for the bear to go away. Leave it plenty of space so that it has an escape route.
- If the bear moves toward you, wave your arms. Back away and speak softly. Act as unthreatening as possible. Don’t run. Distract it by dropping an object.
- If the bear charges at you, continue facing the bear. Try to intimidate it and make yourself look dominant. Bang objects together and raise your voice. Wave your arms over your head and jump so that you look bigger. As a rule, the bear will stop a few metres away from you then turn around and go away. If the bear still charges at you, defend yourself and fight. Use rocks or your fists, walking sticks or anything else you can find. As a last resort, curl into a ball and play dead.
The polar bear is the largest land carnivore in North America. An adult male generally weighs from 300 to 450 kilograms and has a body length of 3 metres from nose to tail. Polar bears are strong, fast, and agile on land and ice alike. They are also expert swimmers and divers. Polar bears may appear slow and docile in the summer heat, but they are capable of moving swiftly and purposefully. They have an acute sense of smell and their eyesight is comparable to ours. They are quite fearful and prefer to avoid confrontations with humans or other polar bears. Their primary prey is the ringed seal but they sometimes steal eggs or attack birds, small mammals or even humans. They also scavenge for food, feeding on carcasses of beached whales or garbage people have left behind.
We encourage you to read the Parks Canada brochure Safety in Polar Bear Country.
Wolf fur ranges in colour from white to black, but is generally ash grey, with black fur at the tip of the tail. Wolves are usually active at night and rest during the day, curled up in a ball on the ground or snow. Wolves usually roam in packs and rarely live alone. The pack has an elaborate hierarchy consisting of five to eight or more individuals, led by an alpha male. Usually slower than their prey, these wily predators hunt in packs and attack old or infirm animals, or very young prey or those caught in snow or ice. Wolves sometimes bury carcass parts to eat later, but are rarely interested in other carrion. Wolves feed mainly on large mammals like deer, moose and caribou. In summer, they round out their diet with small mammals like rabbit, hare, groundhog, beaver and mice, and occasionally dine on birds, fish, insects and berries. Wolves rarely attack humans.
If you encounter a wolf:
- Remain calm.
- Make yourself appear larger than the wolf.
- Leave the wolf an escape route.
- Avoid turning your back on the wolf, and keep it in sight.
- Make noises, clap your hands, shout, and use deterrents.
- If necessary, throw rocks at the wolf or use pepper spray.
- Avoid running away, as the wolf may pursue you, thinking you’re easy prey.
- If attacked, fight back as aggressively as possible.
The best way to stay out of danger is to avoid contact with wildlife. Non-fatal deterrents are available for encounters with black bears (and grizzly bears), but these deterrents are not fail-safe and you should not rely on them to keep you safe if a polar bear attacks. At all times, be ready and know which objects could be used as a weapon (skis, sticks, knives, etc.).
Noisemakers, including air horns and pistol or pen launchers (Bear Bangers), can deter bears.
Pepper spray can encourage some wild animals to leave you alone, but it has not been proven effective against polar bears and does not work in cold temperatures.
A portable trip wire or motion sensor alarm system installed around your tent can alert you to animals approaching your campsite. Portable solar-powered electric fences may deter a bear from approaching your campsite if correctly installed and maintained.
- Test these deterrents before leaving on your excursion.
- These devices may be hard to find in the North, so they should be purchased elsewhere and transported as hazardous materials.
- If you suspect there are polar bears in the area, appoint someone to keep watch or consider moving your camp elsewhere.