Archive for July, 2011
Here’s a photo of “Hopper” the problem male we encountered one summer. He really didn’t like people, and made his sentiments quite clear by hopping at us, or bluff charging us a few times. All that was needed to get him to back off was clapping our hands, and shouting “no” while stepping towards him. As soon as we stepped towards him – a sign of dominance – he relaxed and stopped bothering us.
He was the only bear that has ever bluff charged us, and it is a good reminder to always carry safety equipment when out with grizzly bears. Bears are all individuals, with the potential to harm a human. Although most grizzlies in Katmai ignore humans, you must carry protection in case you encounter a rare individual who does not like humans. We always carry hand held marine flares to scare off a bear. We always camp behind an electric fence, and I also pack bear spray, and bear bangers which is a device to make a really loud noise. Flares are the best choice however.
This second year grizzly bear cub is taking a salmon out of the river below Brooks Falls. Her mother had caught the fish, but she let her two cubs figure out how to walk out of the river carrying large pieces of salmon. Mother bears coach their cubs in various ways to prepare them for fishing on their own.
A grizzly bear sub-adult waits on the sidelines of Brooks Falls. This grizzly bear is probably three or four years old and possibly on his own for the first summer. He was waiting on a small ledge of grass near the bottom of the falls. Lots of inexperienced bears will wait downstream from the falls since older bears will drop their salmon scraps. Of course this little bear will have to fight the ravens and gulls for the scraps! I’ve watched quite a few bears eat tons of big pieces of fish just by scavenging downstream from the falls. This little bear was too timid to even attempt to get near the actual falls.
Grizzly Bears line up on top of Brooks Falls to fish for sockeye salmon. At the height of the sockeye salmon run in July, the falls is packed with fishing bears. Grizzly bears choose different spots on the falls – these bears are at the top waiting to catch a salmon leaping up the falls (you can just make out a salmon in the far right of this photo). Other bears will be below the falls to catch fish before they make the big leap.
It is a total myth that the biggest males dominate the top of Brooks Falls. I actually just saw a commercial on NatGeo Wild for a grizzly show called “King” and they of course say this King bear controls the best fishing spot at Brooks. This is a total lie- the bears actually line up as shown in this photo. When a bear catches a fish, she/he would usually leave the top of the falls to eat the fish on the sidelines. When a bear with a salmon leaves, another bear files in and waits to catch a fish. The grizzly bears are really quite organized, and share the fishing spots by cycling in and out. Of course, this isn’t a totally fixed rule. Some bears might grumble, growl and fight to maintain “their” spot for a while. But the two summers I spent in Brooks I rarely saw any loud fights on the actual falls.
It is also a myth that the large males are the best fishermen. The females, with cubs waiting on the sidelines, usually were much quicker and efficient at getting a salmon when it was their turn on the falls.
I also like this photo because it shows the drastic color differences between a line up of grizzly bears.
I watched an interesting scene with grizzly bear cubs unfolding at the lower falls at Brooks Falls in Katmai. This little grizzly cub ran up a tree in fright when he saw a grizzly mom with two other cubs approach. This cub was with his two much larger siblings, and he was clearly the runt of the litter. Although grizzlies are not known for climbing trees, cubs are small enough to clamber up trees for safety. He was so scared, he pooped all over himself!
I was impressed with how his larger siblings stood at the base of the tree snarling and growling to defend the little runt. Their mother, who was out fishing in the river, seemed unconcerned with the approaching grizzly mom and left the cubs to defend themselves. Eventually, the second mom went in the river to fish, leaving the yearling cubs to work it all out on their own. Both sets of cubs growled at each other for a while, but eventually just settled down to wait for a fish from their mom.