Baby Bears and More… Kodiak Island, Alaska

These cubs were delightful little fellows, but photographing them called for a telephoto lens. I didn’t want to irritate their several hundred pound mom. Sow bears are very protective of their kids. One of the rules I always emphasize when hiking people through bear country is never get between a mama bear and her babies.

I visited Kodiak a couple of times when I lived in Alaska. Both times I was on my way to Katmai National Park to go backpacking. So, I missed seeing the Kodiak bears. It wasn’t a problem. The National Park has its own  population of large brown bears. When the floatplane landed at Katmai, a ranger was there to greet us. The area is a renowned fishing area for both people and bears. Fishermen come from all over the world to try their luck.”If you catch a fish and a brown bear comes along, cut your line. Don’t try to land the fish,” he instructed. It seemed like good advice. He went on to say, “If you meet a brown bear when you are out hiking, talk to the bear and slowly back away.” I wasn’t fishing so I wouldn’t need the first bit of advice, but possibly the second suggestion would come in handy.

The opportunity arrived that very evening. I had gone out for a stroll following a trail down to the beach when a thousand pounds of big claws and sharp teeth came strolling along in the opposite direction. Just what the heck was I supposed to say? I improvised. “Uh, Mr. Bear,” I started out tentatively, “You don’t want to eat me. I am an Alaskan just like you.” He stared at me with his small beady eyes and coughed. I wasn’t sure whether the cough meant I was full of BS or that I should go on. I assumed the latter. “There’s some great German food and Japanese food in camp,” I added as I slowly backed away.  It wasn’t that I actually wanted the bear to eat any German or Japanese fisherman. But, as I noted, I was improvising. He growled and left the trail. Maybe he was heading off to sample some ethnic dishes. I let out a huge sigh of relief and continued down to the beach.

The next day I watched an even larger bear fishing in a deep hole along the river. It was obviously a prime location. The bear wasn’t fishing the way you see them in the documentaries where the bears hang out at waterfalls with their mouths open. He was playing submarine where he would disappear under the  water until he caught a fish and then stand up on his hind legs while he consumed it. It was like he was eating corn on the cob except he was consuming the cob as well. I could here him crunching away. Twenty inches of trout disappeared in a couple of minutes. As I watched, a smaller grizzly sized bear came along to share in the catch. Bad decision. The large bear let out a roar and charged while the little guy leapt out of the hole and hightailed it though camp with the big guy hot on his tail. And, I can assure you, every thing they say about the speed of bears is absolutely true. I was ever so glad that I wasn’t on the trail.

The action on Kodiak wasn’t quite as dramatic, but it was equally interesting as the following photos will show.

Mama suggests to a large male that he go elsewhere. He did. You don’t mess with the mama!

Crisis solved, Mom leads her kids in the opposite direction along the fish pass,

And decides to go fishing.

Where she demonstrated her technique. (The salmon got away.)

“Come on in,” she urged the kids. “The waters fine.” But the cubs passed on the opportunity.

So she rejoined them— and provided a tongue bath.

Meanwhile, other bears were fishing the broader Dog Salmon River beneath the weir.

Including another mom with an older cub. The cub watched as mom searched for salmon under the water.

Successfully.

“Come on Mom, share!” the cub urged.

A seagull hovered above the cub, hoping for some table crumbs.

A bit later, a pair Kodiak bears had a standoff in the middle of the river! It seemed they were trying very hard to ignore each other.

Until the bear on the right decided to suggest that the other bear go elsewhere!

Which it did…

Junior stood up so he can see the action…

While Mom took a front row seat…

And then stood up to salute the victor. “I pledge allegiance…”

With the salmon caught and cubs fed, it was time to take a break.

The cool water provided an escape from the bugs…

While the fish pass provided  some warm sun for an afternoon nap. Anyone one up for telling the bear that it isn’t supposed to be on the fish pass? (grin) Next Wednesday I’ll take you along on trips to catch salmon, troll for halibut, and search for sea glass.

FRIDAY’S POST: A wrap up on the Mekemson Kids Did It.

MONDAY’S POST: The next to the last post on the 18-day journey down the Colorado River.

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42 comments on “Baby Bears and More… Kodiak Island, Alaska

  1. Okay, maybe snakes shouldn’t be my main concern should I go hiking. Maybe it’s bears instead. Meeting either along my path does not sound inviting. 😳 Glad you got away unscathed!

    • 🙂 I confess I was a bit nervous, Carrie! One of my co-leaders on backpack treks used to tell nervous participants, “If bears wanted to eat people, they’d move into town where there are lots of people to eat!” I prefer snakes. I can get away from them. 🙂 –Curt

  2. I love that piece of advice – if you meet a bear just talk calmly to it – Are you kidding me? Best advice however is the play dead routine, I can’t see that working either!

    • Laughing. Seriously, Andrew, I’ve talked with lots of bears in my life. Usually, I’ve yelled at them, however, like “Get out of my camp!” I’ve always had my doubts about the ‘play dead’ routine as well. 🙂 –Curt

    • Fun, Craig. 🙂 I got into an argument with one, once. And you will find this fun. I was in Tuolumne Meadows staying at a campground and some folks from Iowa who were camping in an RV, left their ice chest out on the table when they went to bed. A very large back bear walked into their campsite and proceeded to open the chest. I had several bear encounters that summer as I led backpacking groups in and out of the area. I was used to chasing them out of our camps. I walked over and yelled, “Get out of here, bear!” He stood up on his hind legs, turned toward me and roared! I told him to help himself and beelined it back to my camp. The next morning the folks from Iowa had headed home. I am not sure they ever got out of their RV.

  3. Nice shots Curt! I didn’t have a chance to “talk” to bear, and hopefully won’t have to do LOL I have read instead a lot about bear’s behaviours when I visited Alberta a couple of years ago. I was wondering if you have ever used the bear spray, and if it was effective.

    • Talking with the bear was designed to let the bear know I was human and wasn’t a threat, Christie. Backing away was part of the same strategy. Most of my experience with bears over the years has involved yelling at them. I’m talking Yosemite bears here. 🙂 I’ve never had to use pepper spray, thankfully. My son, who rescued a man who was under attack on Kodiak, tole me that the man had used pepper spray and it had slowed the bear down. But the bear continued to stalk the fellow. Scary. I was stalked by one on Kenai but he went away on his own. –Curt

  4. It’s funny how bears often feature in children’s books. ‘And then mama bear said to Papa bear, you put the little ones to bed.’ I never read that papa bear killed the naughty tourist who came between the little kids.
    Great photos, Curt.

    • I was thankful for the Ranger’s advice, Alison. It put the encounter into a context that suggested everything would be okay if I kept calm and showed the proper respect. An it was. 🙂 –Curt

  5. I like your response to Andrew.’I’ve talked to lots of bears in my life.’ You know I have to think that frequency of bear interaction directly correlates to chances of being eaten by one. Astounding photos Curt. Truly.

  6. The only bears I’ve seen in their natural habitat was from the relative safety of a boat – hopefully we didn’t look threatening to any cubs from there. I certainly wouldn’t want to have an argument with a brown bear, much less a grizzly.

    • Laughing, Evelyne. And yes, any animal that can weigh 1000 pounds and comes with big teeth, big claws and an occasional bad attitude can be dangerous. And it was hard not to think ‘it would be fun to hold the babies.’ 🙂 –Curt

    • Nirvana Bliss… I like it. 🙂 The guide was great, letting us spend as much time as we wanted. And who could have asked for better participation from the bears as they went about their daily lives. It was a privilege to be there. Thanks. –Curt

  7. Don’t know if you’ve ever watched the live cam of the Brown Bears at Brooks Falls, but that’s about as much bear excitement to keep me satisfied for awhile. My only encounter (so far) was driving along a road up in the hills near here and seeing a small cub (maybe a year old) come rolling down a steep bank in front of us… he kept rolling, crossed the two-lane and kept heading on down the other steep side. Of course the camera wasn’t handy! I still see that vision in my mind though. I couldn’t believe he could just roll down those steep (nearly vertical banks) through all the brush and blackberries and just keep rolling. We never did see any mom nearby.

    • Strange that it was rolling, Gunta! Poor little tyke. Or that it didn’t regain control on the road. Maybe he was going for a joy roll. 🙂 My guess is that mom was not far away. The Brooks Falls are probably the most famous of bear-watch areas. I didn’t make it there but I certainly had me share of big brown bear watching between Katmai and Kodiak. My years of leading groups in and out of Yosemite gave me more than my share of black bear encounters! 🙂 –Curt

  8. I’d frame that picture of the momma bear with three cubs behind her. It’s downright National Geographic material, if you ask me. I would say they’re cute, but I’d be in abject terror if I were only a short distance away armed with nothing but a camera. You’re brave. Or something else.

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