07/12/2017 16:45 EDT | Updated 07/12/2017 16:51 EDT

Polar Bears Attacks On Humans Will Continue Rising As Melting Sea Ice Makes Hunting Harder: Study

Luckily, these attacks are still rare.

Cheryl Ramalho via Getty Images
Large adult male polar bear walking in the tundra.

The first study done on polar bear attacks around the world finds that the great Arctic hunters aren't enthusiastic predators of humans after all.

Despite their reputation for stalking people like any other prey, the study found bears don't usually go after them until the animals are already beginning to starve.

Nearly two-thirds of the attacks studied were by bears in poor body condition.

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A mother bear and her cubs pause on the ice.

The report by Polar Bears International warns that such bears are likely to become more common as vanishing sea ice reduces their ability to hunt seals and pushes them closer to towns.

Nearly nine in 10 attacks occurred between July and December, when sea ice is at its lowest level.

Polar bear attacks are extremely rare compared to attacks by black or brown bears. Between 1870 and 2014, there were only 73 documented polar bear attacks on humans in the world — 20 resulted in fatalities. Between 1960 and 1998, black and grizzly bears caused 42 serious or fatal injuries in Alberta alone.

But, since polar bears are more likely to attack for food, fatal encounters with them are more likely than other bears.

Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images
Two male polar bears fight for the right to claim a dead seal carcass the rests on a small ice floe.

In April, a polar bear in Newfoundland had to be airlifted away from a community. A week later, another bear was killed after it got too close to people.

Last year, polar bear activity reports for Churchill, Man. showed the number of documented encounters with people has jumped from 229 in 2013 to 351 in 2015. The number of bears who were tranquilized and housed in the town's holding facility, known as the polar bear jail, before being released into the wild almost doubled from 36 in 2013 to 65 in 2015.

Churchill had fatal polar bear attacks in 1968 and 1983. A man and woman were seriously injured in an attack more recently in 2013, according to The Toronto Star.

Other incidents in Canada include a fatal 1999 attack near Hudson Bay which resulted in the death of a man and serious injury to his grandson. Another bear stalked and attacked a group of people hiking in the northern wilderness in 2013, nearly killing one man.

The study offers important advice for anyone being attacked: bears have been driven off by victims fighting back.

With files from Sima Shakeri

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