Since I’ve been touring with my book, I’d had a lot of great conversations about bears.
When I ask people if they know what to do when they encounter a bear, the most common response I hear is, “play dead.”
Playing dead can be a good strategy in certain situations. For example if you surprise a grizzly, the bear may feel defensive and act aggressively in response. Playing dead may be a way to show that you are not a threat.
If you come across a black bear in the day time, playing dead may be the wrong thing to do. The video below shows such an instance where I would not play dead. The footage was shot when two men were out running near Fort McMurray, Alberta.
The bear in the video could be checking the men out to see whether they are worth eating. Note that this is does not necessarily look like an aggressive approach, but curious.
This looks like a possible predatory approach by the bear because:
- The bear slowly closes the distance between them
- He is curious, silent and almost playful, rather than aggressive
- He continues to follow the men, despite their shouts and yells
These men did a great job of keeping their cool, they made it clear that they are not easy prey and moved away. The key thing is that the bear realized that they were more trouble than their worth (in calories).
This is the problem with “play dead” as a catch-all response to a bear. It isn’t necessarily a good one because it depends on whether 1) the bear is a black bear or a grizzly 2) the approach is offensive or defensive.
While it is very rare, when a black bear makes an offensive approach, it is possible that playing dead will result in an attack. As Stephen Herrero says in the best book on the subject Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance, “if predation is the motive for an attack…people who act passively or play dead, are simply inviting the bear to continue the attack.”
The bear attack that I describe in the forward of my novel, The Bear, was a predatory attack. In that case, evidence shows that the couple tried to fight back very hard. It doesn’t always work.
I’m glad the two men in the video are okay.
Thank you to Amy Sopinka and @HfxShopaholic for sending in this bear story.