We learned a lot about Alaska's Coastal Brown Bears on our vacation this month so I thought I would share a few lessons learned from our hosts and guides while photographing bears at Lake Clark National Park
All the bears we photographed were brown bears - that's exactly the same biology as what we call grizzly bears here in the lower 48. The bears at Lake Clark National Park - just north of Katmai National Park (290 air miles southwest of Anchorage) are not as aggressive as other brown bears for several reasons: first, they have plenty of food, and second, they have grown up with us humans watching and photographing them and don't view us as a threat. Unless we don't follow the rules!
The lodge that we stayed at, the Alaska Homestead Lodge is one of two lodges in this area, and there are no cars or highways, only planes and boats. So the area has brown bears like these roaming freely and they were a pleasure to observe!
The bears senses are extremely good, especially smell. They can smell something up to 2 or 3 miles away. You will often observe them with nose in the air, and then I notice that way in the distance there's something new on the scene - like a sow or cub smelling a boar in the distance! Our guides had us observe bears from the upwind side so that they can smell that we are just more humans, not anything threatening to them!
The adult male is called a "boar" and is the top of the food chain here. This boar is estimated at 900 pounds, but they can grow to 1200 pounds.
I thought they were quite scary looking compared to the cubs and sows - this boar appears weather and lots of scars on his head and shoulders - as well as lots of missing fur from his behind. We were told that sometimes their fur gets stuck to the den and it gets ripped off! Yikes!
The adult female is called a "sow" and are a little smaller and a little lighter in color, although they are very protective of their cubs and can be extremely aggressive if startled.
The cubs stay with the sow until their 3rd year when momma kicks them out. We saw a lot of second and third year cubs, but no first year cubs as the sow was still keeping them hidden. We took lots of photos of this mom and cub clamming at low tide - it was quite a thing to observe. And we went clamming ourselves and learned how wonderful they taste!
There are dozens of brown bears all around this area, at one point on our final evening we saw nine different bears within our view and we called it the "grand finale." We got to know a few of the faces....like this clamming sow and cub are in many of the photos - the cub is a second year male cub that my photography group starting calling "attack cub" as he kept approaching the group quite aggressively and all it took was the guide standing tall and saying, "Go back to your momma attack cub," and he would oblige!
We saw lots of bear tracks all over and learned a few things about tracks. A general rule for determining the brown bear's size by the pawprint is that if you measure the width of the print in inches, you just add one and change to feet, and this first 6 inch wide print should be that of a 7 foot brown bear. I'm sure there are dozens of exceptions to this rule, but we're sticking with it for now!