Thursday, January 28, 2010

2008 KATMAI BEAR TRIP REPORT: PART 5 (GEOGRAPHIC HARBOUR - INDIVIDUAL BEARS)

Al (a.k.a. Scarface) - the alpha boar in Geographic during our stay in 2008.

One of the big stars of Geographic Bay was a big, heavily scarred male that we called “Al” (as in Al Pacino - Scarface). He appeared to be the dominant bear, as all other bruins in the area gave him wide berth. While we never saw any bears fighting at Geographic, the evidence of some serious combat was obvious.

A boar with a serious flesh wound. Injuries like this typically heal very quickly.

On one of our last days in Katmai, we observed a large boar with a flap of flesh peeled back from a large, open wound on its hind quarters. Every adult boar had war wounds. In most cases, these were gashes on the forelegs or wounds around the neck. One bear had a gash on its head that almost reached the eye (at first we thought the eye had been damaged). While everything seemed fairly copasetic during our stay, the area was no doubt an arena from some terrific bruin battles.

A large boar bearing wounds on the forelegs and around the neck - war wounds from intense bruin battling!

Grizzly Aggression

Stonorov and Stokes (1972) found that there were four situations in which aggression most often occurs in brown bear aggregations. They were: 1. when one bear moves too close to another bear (invades personal space) 2. when one bear loses a challenge but then redirects its aggression toward a nearby bear (displacement aggression) 3. when two bears compete for a preferred fishing site 4. when two strange bears meet.

Stonorov and Stokes describe what typically happens during an intense, aggressive encounter between two bears that are similar in social ranking. Firstly, the bears confront one another – that is, they face each other with the front legs stiffened, the heads are lowered slightly and all movements are slow and deliberate. Also, the ears are laid back, both have their mouths open to expose their canines (known as a weapons threat) and there is excess saliva production. (Bears often drool when they are stressed.)

One of two things can happen at this point – one of the bears may back down or one or both bears may charge. When charging occurs one or both bears run at each other with their heads lowered and their ears back, with mouths open slightly. If neither bear breaks off the charge and retreats at this point, the bears will come to blows. The bruins may swipe at each other with their fore paws, bite each other (usually on the neck) or lock jaws. In some cases, they bite the neck region and shake their heads violently.

When one bear has had enough, it will drop its head even lower than its opponent and begin to slowly back away (facing the winner of the battle). After putting some distance between it and the dominant combatant, the subordinate may turn and walk or run away. The dominant bear might also turn its back to the other bear and move off while still in close proximity to its opponent. This is an exhibition of winner's supreme confidence - it knows that the beaten bear will not attack again, even when the winner turns his back and makes itself more vulnerable. During combat, there will be lots of vocalizations - this is one thing that differentiates fighting from playing (the latter is a relatively quiet activity).

References:

Stonorov D. and A. W. Stokes. 1972. Social behavior of the Alaska brown bear. Int. Assoc Bear Res. & Mang. 23: 232-242.

© Scott W. Michael

BROWN BEARS: HANDLING AND INGESTING FISH PREY



In the video featured above, you will see various fishing methods and some of the handling methods described in the article below. A few things to look for: there is a sequence of video that shows a big brown bear deftly removing the brain from a fish. There is a scarred, big boar diving into a deep river pool from the shoreline and submerging in an attempt to capture its slippery quarry (he finally succeeds in capturing a "spent" fish in the video and stands on its hind feet as it tears the fish apart). Toward the end of the video, you will see a large boar launching some of its great bulk from the river and plunging back into the water with fore legs outstretched. At one point, it has herded a big school of salmon along the river bank and appears to be trying to push some of the fish onto the shoreline. Turn up the sound and enjoy!


Grizzlies use a number of different handling techniques when feeding on salmon. In most cases, the savvy “fisherbear” will grasp its prize in its jaws and carry it from the waterway to the shore, a gravel bar or surrounding grassy meadow/woodland (subordinate grizzlies, in the presence of conspecifics, are often more likely to move farther from the capture site than larger, more dominant bears). They then place their catch on the ground and stand on it with the fore paws. How the prey fish is processed may vary from one individual bear to the next or from one location to another. In many cases the first thing a bear will do is bite down on the posterior region of the fish and remove the tail section. Another body tissue targeted early in the handling process is the skin. To skin its quarry, the bear will grasp the skin with the incisors and pull upward, peeling the integument from the salmon’s body.

If food is in short supply (e.g., it is early in the salmon run or if fish numbers are down) the bear will consume the entire fish. If food is abundant, the bruin may select the choicest parts of the fish and leave much of its behind for scavenging birds, other mammals or even other bears (e.g., subordinate individuals or those that are poor at fishing). As mentioned in other posts, the skin is preferred as are the brains, but rather than ingesting the entire head, the bear often bites through the top of the cranium and laps out the brain or plucks them out with its incisors (see video footage above).

Not all bears take the time to leave the stream to eat their prize. It is not uncommon to see a bear, standing in knee deep water, clamping the fish against the front foreleg with the opposite paw (some bears employ this technique when eating fish on shore). The bear then rips the fish apart, one bite at a time. If the water where a fish is captured is shallow enough, some bears will pin the fish to the stream bed, while in a state of repose, and then stick their head underwater and rip pieces from their piscine prize (the bear will raise its head to masticate and then submerge to take another bite).

I have noticed that in many cases the fish rarely struggle much after being trapped in the bear’s jaws. They seem to go limp. They may flop about if the bear should drop them on the shore before pinning them down to eat, but otherwise they resist very little while in the jaws of the bruin. (I did see occasions where they fish would struggle if a bear bit down on the upper back.)

© Scott W. Michael

2008 KATMAI BEAR TRIP REPORT: PART 4 (GEOGRAPHIC HARBOUR - INDIVIDUAL BEARS)

A sow with her older cubs attempts to teach them to fish, although they prefer to play and loot their mother's catch.

Geographic Habor’s fishing grounds were also home to a vivacious family unit, consisting of a sow and a pair of ~ 2 1/2 year olds. The mother was an efficacious “fisherbear,” while her cubs did little fishing. Instead, they spent much of their time grappling with each other like hairy Sumo wrestlers! When they were not playing, they were shadowing their mom and stealing any fish that she hauled in. Most of the time she would let them take off with her catch, although she did occasionally attempt to wolf down some of her piscine prey before she was looted by her greedy brood. On one occasion she lost her patience and cuffed one of her overzealous offspring before giving in and letting go of her fish (see video below). Occasionally, the two hooligans attempted to include mom in their frolicsome behavior. She complied a couple of times, jawing at her young assailants.



A trio of grizzlies: a sow with her two offspring (these to youngsters are probably 32 months old). Note how she does all of the fishing, while they benefit from the fruits of her labor! Compare these two laggards with the adolescent fishing machine below.

In contrast to these impish, 2.5-year olds, we observed an amazing young bear that was a fishing machine! This bruin was a ~ 1.5 year old (usually referred to as a yearling) with a light colored (nearly blonde) mother. The pair initially made their presence known when the mother, with the cub trailing behind, were observed chasing another bear. They gave up their half-hearted chase and began to slowly meander toward the prime fishing area. Once they arrived at the river bank, it was not long before the yearling was chasing and even catching salmon! (There were few other bears in the area at the time.) The mother bear seemed to lag behind the young bear, keeping close enough to protect its progeny if the need arised, but yet far enough away to allow it to learn some life skills. The young bear was such an enthusiastic piscator that at one point it had a fish in its mouth, while it attempted to capture a second salmonid (see the video below)!



The fishing exploits of an ~ 1.5-year old (yearling) bear - this young bruin was a very effective fisherman, as you will see in the video above.

© Scott W. Michael

2008 KATMAI BEAR TRIP REPORT: PART 3 (GEOGRAPHIC HARBOUR - INDIVIDUAL BEARS)

A sow with a first (spring) cub. Bother were very flighty. At one point, the cub ran into the tall grass and it took the nervous mother 20 to 30 seconds to relocate her progeny.

During our stay at Geographic Harbour, we spotted one sow with a first year (spring) cub, both of which were quite flighty. The sow had large, white fringed ears and her cub looked very healthy (it was quite chubby!). The first time we saw them, they made a brief appearance at the river when four or five other big bears were around. Their stay was brief, being cut short when the nervous cub was startled and dashed into the tall grass. Mother gave chase and after 20 to 30 anxious seconds was able to relocate her frightened offspring. The pair disappeared after that, apparently in search of safer pastures in which to feed.

On our last day at Katmai, this sow and her cub reappeared. The mother’s desire to increase her nutrient intake apparently overcame her concern about exposing her cub to conspecifics. The mother succeeded in catching a few fish, with the cub trailing right behind her (this includes venturing into the rapid moving water in the center of the stream). The cub also ate some its mother’s catch. It is sad to think that this tubby little bear has about a 40 % chance of surviving to adulthood.

Ginger Bear - a young bear, possibly chased off early from its mother. This is one of many pink salmon this little bear was able to capture.

On our second day at Geographic, we observed a small bear that cautiously made its way to the river. It appeared to be a young bear – possibly a runty three-year old. We speculated that it may have been run off by its mother prematurely or possibly it had somehow lost its maternal parent? It came to the river to fish and was successful in its efforts. Rather than eating it near the stream bank, the little bear grabbed its salmon by the tail and sought solitude in the tall grass. When fishing, it was very aware of its larger ursid neighbors, no doubt cognizant of its greater vulnerability because of its small size. This bear had a very distinct appearance – it was rather skinny and had large ears (it almost had a fox-like look about it). We dubbed it Ginger Bear because of its lighter pelage. We were to encounter ginger bear on a couple of occasions (more on this bear later).

2008 KATMAI TRIP REPORT: PART 2 (GEOGRAPHIC HARBOUR)

Geographic Harbour (Amalik Bay) is picturesque, sheltered and infested with brown bears!

On previous trips to Katmai, most of our bear-viewing had taken place at Hallo and Kukak Bays. On our 2008 trip, we didn’t get to either of these sites as bear numbers were sparse at the time. Instead, we spent much of our adventure in Geographic Harbour, a picturesque site at the head of Amalik Bay. Like the rest of Katmai, the scenery is magnificent and bears are ubiquitous - there are usually at least two or three bears fishing in the main stream that flows into the bay. The harbour is surrounded by a high profile landscape that provides natural protection from the inclement weather that rushes across the Gulf of Alaska. It provides an ideal anchorage and a calm landing “strip” for float planes.

The downside of Geographic, is that on a clear day you are likely to share the prime bear-viewing spots with a number of “day-trippers” (these bear-viewers arrive by floatplane and remain in Geographic for two to four hours before being whisked back to Homer or Kodiak). During our stay, there were times where we were in close proximity to at least 30 other bear-viewers. While it certainly takes away some of the “wilderness feel” of the experience, this “bear paparazzi” did not seem to bother the bears that frequent Geographic Harbour (mind you, there may be other bears that would come and fish here but do not while the viewers are present). Also, in the early mornings and from mid-afternoon on, we were the only people among the bears.

A rotund sow (possibly a barren female - see notes in text below) exhibiting the typical Geographic Harbour dark pelage.

Interestingly enough, the bears that frequent Geographic Harbour tend to be darker in color than their Hallo Bay “cousins.” While you see some darker bears in Hallo, almost all the bears at Geographic are chocolate brown. While I am sure it varies from year to year, there were fewer bears at any one time on the Geographic stream than we had seen in early to mid-August at Hallo (we saw as many as 23 bears at once during one of our previous Hallo Bay visits, while the most Ursus arctos in view at any one time in Geographic was less than 10). This may be due to the fact that the prime fishing spots (at least those in view of the bear-viewing areas) in Geographic are not as abundant so there is less space for bears to fish comfortably around one another (fishing spots are more abundant when the tide is out).

In Geographic, there is high grass meadow (Calamagrostis spp.) that grows right up to the edge of some portions of the river. It was not uncommon to see subordinate bears, standing on their back legs, peering above the grass to make sure it was safe to take up a position along the water way. At low tide we would take-up a station on the intertidal flats, where bears fished in the dendritic tributaries that branched out from the main river channel. There is also a viewing pad, consisting of a flat, slightly raised bank situated along the edge of the stream that can be used at both low and high tide. It was not uncommon for bears working the stream edge to come within 15 to 20 feet of this viewing area.

While the area was never overrun with bears, there was often good fishing action in Geographic, especially at and around low tide. We saw numerous salmon pulled from the water by subadults, and both adult boars and sows (although the latter were slightly more abundant in the area). There were some fat, beautiful sows around the river, several of which were very effective at catching fish. One of these females was huge! Brad Josephs, brown bear expert, speculated that this was possibly a barren female, as they have a propensity to become very rotund.

2008 KATMAI BEAR TRIP REPORT: PART 1

In late August of 2008, Janine and I were joined by five other photographers/naturalists on a trip to Katmai National Park. This included Larry Jackson, Debbie Titus, David Salmanowitz, and Larry and Nancy Peterson*. I had been to Katmai in 2006 and 2007 and was excited to get back, as well as share this very special place with great friends. Based on their reactions, I think they too have caught the bear bug - at least three of the five have expressed an interest to go back next year!

We were the guests of bear-viewing guru John Rogers (Katmai Coastal Bear Tours). He runs a number of boats along the Katmai coast and he, and his guides, know the area and the bears like no one else. I had been with John on my two previous trips and once again, John and company came through with a truly amazing wildlife experience!

Katmai Notes

In my past two visits to Katmai, I did my bear-viewing in early to mid-August. This year, we arrived in the land of the great bear a little later in the season (from August 22 until August 31st). We hoped to see more corpulent bears (as a result of a few more weeks at the “salmon buffet,” which is available from July into September) as well as some different behaviors. It was highly likely there would be more fishing activity as at least three and possibly four species of salmon (chum, pink, sockeye, and possibly silver) could be “running” at that time. I also wanted to document bears feeding on moribund and/or dying salmon, as this food source is an important part of the diet of hyperphagic bears.

It turned out the fish were present in large numbers. In fact, in certain parts of the Alaskan Peninsula (e.g., Bristol Bay), there were reports of huge fish runs. I certainly observed bears catching more fish during this trip than I had seen on previous visits (in the past two years I had seen relatively small runs when I visited). We observed pink (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha), chum (O. keta) and sock-eye salmon (O. nerka) being plucked from Katmai’s rivulets. While there were definitely more fish, we saw fewer bears than we had on our past trips. Some locals speculated that the reduction in fishing bear numbers was a function of an abundant berry crop – many of the bears were in the ”bush” gorging on salmon berries. Even though Ursus arctos numbers were down, there were still more than enough bears to keep us in a constant state of awe.

First Stop Kodiak

We began our trip in Kodiak – the jumping off site to Katmai (i.e., you take a float plane from Kodiak to the Katmai coast to meet the “bear boat”). We arrived at Kodiak about five days before our Katmai trip was to commence. Katmai Coastal Bear Tours recommends that you show-up in Kodiak at least a couple days before your scheduled departure, just in case it is necessary to make an early trip to Katmai. If inclement weather is forecast for the day you are scheduled to travel to Katmai, John may have you fly out to the boat one or even two days earlier in an attempt to ensure you get to spend the time you paid for with the bears.

Spending some time on Kodiak is a treat in and of itself! It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, especially when viewed from the air. There are valleys, mountains, rocky coastlines replete with tide pools, clear streams and lakes and lush vegetation (the latter is a function of the high precipitation levels [average annual rainfall of 173 cm, average snowfall 198 cm]). And, of course, it also has a large population of brown bears (a.k.a. Kodiak bears). How many Comfort Inns in the world have a sign posted on the door suggesting that guests be very careful while moving about the parking lot after dark as a curious bear has been sighted lurking around the hotel! During our stay, there were a couple reports of Kodiak bear being sighted fishing in local streams. While we did not see any bears on Kodiak, we did visit a beached humpback whale carcass in hopes of seeing some scavenging brown bears. We also did lots of hiking, learned about spatterdock (Nuphar luteu) (thanks to Larry, our amateur botanist), enjoyed some amazing scenery and found some great intertidal, invertebrate life.

Fortunately, the weather was good while we were on the island (although we arrived on a blustery, rainy night) and we were able to get off to Katmai on schedule. In the next post, we will take a look at our first bear-viewing stop, Geographic Harbour.

URSIDOPHILES 2008



* Larry and David are great dive buddies and accomplished photographers - Janine and I have spent many hours with them in the Western Pacific, both above and below the water! This was the first time we had traveled with Debbie - she was a delight to have on the trip and an accomplished photographer in her own right. Larry and Nancy are good friends from Lincoln, Nebraska (where we reside) that are passionate about wildlife. We want to thank these five great travel companions for sharing this wonderful ursid-rich experience with us!

© Scott W. Michael

MARINE MAMMALS ON THE MENU

A veritable brown bear buffet! Photo taken by Scott W. Michael.

It looked like a big, white amorphous blob at first glance, but after further investigation one could make out the mouth-end of the beast, the flukes and flippers. It was a humpback whale that had washed up on the shore of Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park, Kodiak (Alaska) about a week before we searched it out. We had heard reports that the whale had been deposited by winds and waves on the Kodiak coast, but finding the rotting blubber-laden beast was to prove a bit of a challenge. When we visited the local rangers station, they didn’t seem too eager to tell us where it was. After further probing, they finally shared the approximate location. As we left the office, a ranger mumbled “Watch out for bears.” We concluded this is why they were hesitant to share the cetacean’s resting place - they did not want to have to deal with a problems that can occur when people and food hoarding bears cross-paths.

It turns out that dead whales are a favorite of coastal brown bears in parts of coastal and insular Alaska. The tons of rotting blubber, flesh and whale organs can produce an olfactory beacon that can reach the nasal epithelium of a brown bear many miles away (there are anecdotal accounts of bears smelling putrid whale from 20 miles away). The culinary tastes of a brown bear are not that refined, and besides whale flesh has lots of nutrients that can help a bear lay down fat for the denning period. The only drawback to eating a dead whale is the flesh can be hard to handle. The skin is so tough that even a massive brown bear can have a difficult time tearing a chunk free and masticating it. (The blubber layer of a whale’s flesh can be as thick as 43 to 50 cm!)

A whale carcass can attract many bears, as was the case on the California coast centuries ago. In the book “California Grizzly” (1955) the authors share the following:

Those (ed. grizzly bears) living near the seacoast were attracted to the bonanza supply where ever a whale washed ashore – and the one-time abundance of whales in our coastal waters probably made this a not uncommon event. The first reports of bears eating this food was by the VizcaĆ­no party at Monterey in 1602; a very large whale had gone ashore, “ and the bears came by night to dine on it” (Wagner, 1929). Revere (1849) wrote that the carcass of a whale, thrown upon the beach, will attract a “regiment of bears” – and Kotzebue (1921) used the term countless “troops.”

On the shores of Kodiak Island and along the Katmai coast, groups of brown bears feed on moribund whales, while on the Kenai Peninsula, bears of various age classes are reported to move to Bristol Bay to scavenge on dead gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) (Glenn and Miller, 1980). In the Yukon, grizzly bears have been observed to scavenging on Beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) carcasses. Troyer (2005) reports seeing 12 bears feeding on a gray whale carcass at the same time (there were 18 bears in the immediate vicinity). He states that all of the bears worked over the carcass, only occasionally engaging in brief altercations during the feast. Some bears would leave, only to have their place taken over by another bear. Bear continued feeding on it for a week, at which time the remains of the carcass were carried away by the tide. There are reports of observers seeing brown bears entering or appearing from a hole in a large whale carcass. Apparently, the bears entered the bloated whale to feed on the internal organs or chew at the muscle from the inside. After gorging themselves with whale flesh, brown bears may roll on the odoriferous carcass. The function of this behavior (which, unfortunately, is also a habit they share in common in domestic canines) is not known.

Brown bears occasionally capture live pinnipeds, like these harbor seals. Photo by Scott W. Michael

Not only are moribund marine mammals consumed, brown bears have actually been known to captured and kill pinnipeds. Of course, polar bears are well known form their seal-eating habits. They have developed hunting strategies and physical adaptations to effectively exploit this resource. Grizzlies, on the other hand, feed on these animal opportunistically. If a hungry bear encounters a hauled out seal that it can get to before the latter can reach the water, it may attempt to subdue it. For example, grizzlies have been known to eat harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) along the Alaskan Peninsula and in the Northwest Territories of Canada. They are more susceptible to bear attack than some other pinnipeds (e.g., sea lions) because they are much more cumbersome and would have a more difficult time escaping if they are too far from the water’s edge. Seals are also more likely to be found along sandy shorelines, where bears sometimes hunt. That said, in most cases, seals haul out on small islets along the shore – habitats that are not often visited by grizzlies. There are also rare reports of big coastal brown bears taking on walruses (this has been reported on the Kenai Peninsula) (Glenn and Miller, 1980).

(Unfortunately, it turned out we never did encounter any bears on the Fort Abercrombie humpback carcasses the day we visited it, but I would not be surprised if it was eventually located and fed upon by opportunistic brown bears.)

References:

Glenn, L. P. and L. H. Miller. 1980. Seasonal movements of an Alaska Peninsula brown bear population. Int. Conf. Bear Res. And Manage. 4:307-312.

Check out these videos of brown bears feeding on dead whales:

A group of brown bears feeding on a whale carcass on coast of Kodiak Island, includes wallowing on dead cetacean (please pardon the silly commentary). Click here.

© Scott W. Michael

LIPSTICK ON A PIG? HOW ABOUT "LIPPY" ON A BEAR?

A female brown bear from Geographic Harbor, Katmai National Park, sporting red "stick." The red pigment is actually from the blood of a pink salmon the bear just consumed.

IGNORANT "BEARANOIA" COLUMN AND INTELLIGENT RESPONSE!

Bear attacks hit record high in Alaska
by Karl Vick - Aug. 17, 2008 10:01 AM
The Washington Post


EAGLE RIVER, Alaska - Most times, in Alaska, the bear eats you.

But this summer, in a record year for maulings, Devon Rees managed a draw with the grizzly that leapt onto him as he sauntered home between a stream brimming with salmon and the busiest highway in the state.

"Bear comes flying out, gets its fight on," said Rees, 18, nursing his wounds on the couch of his grandmother's trailer perhaps 60 yards from the scene of the Aug. 4 battle. Bandages covered puncture wounds on the inside of both his thighs, and blood seeped through the gauze around one elbow. His jeans lay in shreds on the floor. His left eye was puffy from the swat of a massive paw.

"She was moving around like a dog will when it's fighting," said the 5-foot-11-inch, 215-pound Rees, who had been at a friend's house until 2 a.m. watching a movie called "Never Back Down." "It was fist to claw."

In a typical year, Rees would stand out as the Anchorage area's one and only mauling victim. These days, he's just a face in a crowd of them, notable chiefly for defying expert advice that playing dead is the best way to survive after spooking a grizzly.

At least eight Alaskans have been battered by bears this year, with three maulings in five days in early August. And though no human fatalities have been recorded, the summer of the bear is testing Alaskans' carefully calibrated relationship with wildlife, an evolving attitude that differs from views in the Lower 48, where grizzlies run half as large.

"Most places in Alaska don't have a persistent problem with bear or moose, because if it's anywhere near the village, they shoot it, no questions asked," said Rick Sinnott, the Alaska Fish and Game Department biologist charged with reconciling the 350,000 humans who reside around Alaska's biggest city with the wildlife who live there, too. "It's the Last Frontier mentality: You don't tolerate any risk from wild animals."

But at least until this summer, Anchorage residents were more inclined to live and let live, many residents being from "outside" and intrigued by the sight of moose wandering through the city - as well as by the predators that stalk them.

"The joke used to be, Anchorage isn't too bad because it's only two hours from Alaska," said Sean Farley, a bear biologist with the Fish and Game Department. "The truth is, Alaska is right here. We've got bears. We got moose. We got wolves. You name it."

And this summer, a poor season for salmon has made the bears loiter longer at Anchorage streams and be less tolerant of interruption.

"If you don't get enough to eat, you get cranky," Farley said.

The first attack, on June 29, was one of the worst. Petra Davis, 15, was cycling in a marathon bike race at 1 a.m. on a trail beside a salmon stream in the city's Far North Bicentennial Park. In the darkness, with the wind whipping the cottonwood trees, she may have careened broadside into a mama grizzly. It chewed through her bike helmet, crushed her trachea and cut into her shoulder, torso, buttocks and thigh.

"She was on the ground, sitting up, bloody, her cellphone out," said Sinnott, who heard a recording of the call Davis managed to place to 911. "She was apologizing because she had a hard time talking."

She got out the word "bear." Another rider directed paramedics.

Suspicion centered on a grizzly sow with two cubs that had been the subject of a half-dozen reports in the area over a six-week period. One jogger said he discovered the sow running behind him and pulled himself forward as its jaws snapped shut an inch from his rear end.
The next attack came July 23, a few yards from the front door of the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge, 100 miles south of Anchorage. Abi Sisk, 21, had just stepped onto a trail in the 11 p.m. twilight. She was bending to look at flowers when a grizzly lunged.

"She heard growling, and all of a sudden it was on her," said Dan Michels, the lodge manager. A guest heard "what he thought was laughing," from the parking lot and saw the bear with Sisk's head in its mouth.

The beast ran off after the man ran toward it, waving his arms and shouting. Sisk, a housekeeper, survived, partially scalped and with a broken jaw. Since May, a dozen bears have been shot on the Kenai Peninsula after threatening humans.

"The idea of bears is so predominant and so much bigger than the animals themselves," said Sherry Simpson, a University of Alaska professor and author of a book on bears and humans.
Farley, the biologist, has worked with grizzlies weighing 1,000 pounds, and he laughed aloud at Rees' vainglory. For appreciating the overpowering strength of Ursus arctos horribilis, Farley recommended a video shot five days before Rees's encounter, in the same town, by a woman who at first mistook for her baby's cries the sounds of a moose being killed by a grizzly.

"They got to do something about these bears," said Scott Simpson, a shipping executive, pausing at the scene of the Rees attack and voicing an opinion heard more and more often around Anchorage. "I've been all over the backwoods here and never seen it like this. The prevalence this summer is just staggering."

The sense of crisis took hold on Aug. 8, four days after Rees's encounter, when at 5 p.m. Clivia Feliz jogged onto Rover's Run, the city park trail where Davis was attacked. She had run 800 feet when the ears of her border collie, Sky, went straight up. Two grizzly cubs were 30 feet ahead on the trail, sniffing the ground.

"I'm thinking, Where's the sow?' " Feliz said from her Anchorage hospital bed. Not seeing one, she turned and ran back down the trail. The cubs gave chase. Feliz veered into the woods, figuring that "if I disappear from sight, maybe the cubs will just forget, like kids."

"But they were still coming."

Before she saw the mother bear, she heard it, first on the trail, then crashing through the brush. Feliz, 51, lay down behind some dead trees. The cubs "blew right by me," but the sow veered her way.

"I could see her nose go up. She scented me."

The bear was on her in seconds. There was no growling or clicking of teeth. It just stared at Feliz, huffing, then lunged at her head and "chomped right down" on the arm Feliz brought up reflexively.

For a few seconds, the bear simply held her captive, pushing Feliz's head and shoulders with its paws and mouth but not biting.

"She was just staring at me," said Feliz, a massage therapist. "And I was thinking I should protect my vital organs, because if she bites me in the stomach, you know, a lot of blood there. I drew my legs up. There was another huff. She bit down, but she bit down very deliberately this time.

"I could feel the ribs cracking. I knew she had bit into something, like an organ." Four ribs snapped, partially collapsing a lung.

Her screams of pain did not faze the bear, which held her down a few more moments, then left the way the cubs had gone. Feliz waited a few minutes before staggering back to the trail, her right arm hanging useless, with a crushed brachial artery, her left arm held against her bleeding torso. Sky reappeared, and when they reached a road Feliz flagged down a passing car.
"I know about bears. I've lived here 12 years," she said. "I'm not blaming anybody else. The bear was the bear and did what bears do."

That sensibility remains common across a state where fishermen routinely carry guns.
"I don't see it any different than New York in rush hour: You just have to pay attention. Our cars just have hair and teeth," said Don Smith, a telephone technician packing a .45 along with his fly rods as he prepared to float the Russian River, not far from the Kenai Princess Lodge.
Grizzlies routinely fish the bright teal waters alongside humans in what "feels like joint custody," said Sherry Simpson, the professor.

In Anchorage, trails placed beside streams are used both by bears and by people who often forget that a city can also be part of the wild. Analyzing the DNA from fur collected from thistles and wires, Farley found that 20 different bears passed near the stream where Davis and Feliz were mauled. Radio-collar tracking indicated that when salmon are running, bears are almost always within 100 yards of the stream and, therefore, the trail.

"There's the problem of enhancing salmon streams that run through cities," said Simpson: "Ring the dinner bell."

_________________________________________________

Outside reporter needs to do homework on bears
by Craig Medred - August 30th, 2008
Anchorage Daily News/OUTDOORS

Let's not mince words here: Washington Post staff writer Karl Vick is an ursine illiterate.

This is not name calling, of which I generally disapprove, but a simple statement of fact.
Here is what Vick "reported" in the Sunday, Aug. 17 edition of one of America's great newspapers:

"EAGLE RIVER, Alaska -- Most times, in Alaska, the bear eats you."

In how many ways is this wrong?

Number one: Most times, in Alaska, bears and humans coexist without any thought to that old cliche that cautions "sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you." Generally, people and bears meet, look at each other, mutually go "oh-oh,'' and then retreat, or flee, in opposite directions. This happens thousands, possibly tens of thousands of times per year in this state.

Despite a widespread, paranoid belief that grizzlies are big, brown, hairy people-eaters, they are not. A whole business has been built around people viewing huge, wild grizzly bears along the Katmai Coast. It would have been gone long ago if the threat of those bears eating people was significant.

Number two: When bears do attack -- a rare event in and of itself -- they almost never eat anyone. They apparently don't consider us very good prey. Bears bite people, and then they flee. Most bears are like heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson, not Kiwi cannibals. Sometimes the injuries from bear bites are severe, but the flesh is usually still all there.

Some years back I was attacked by a grizzly bear. It had my ankle in its mouth when I shot it. It was biting, not eating.

When the attack happened, I was doing the most dangerous thing you can do in grizzly country -- sneaking quietly through the woods on the hunt for moose. I am confident that if I'd been making lots of noise I never would have gotten close enough to a whole family of grizzlies for things to get messy. They would have been long gone because it is the general policy of bears to avoid us.

They flee us, because they fear us. They fear us, because they have good reason.

Even the bears seem to understand that Vick got the first paragraph of his story 180 degrees wrong:

Most times, in Alaska the people eat the bear, or at least kill it.

ODDS FAVOR HUMANS

Not counting bears shot in defense of life and property or run down by cars in this state every year, humans kill 1,000 to 1,500 grizzly bears and about twice as many black bears. Most of the grizzlies become rugs or trophy mounts. Few people eat grizzly flesh; it's pretty rancid. But a good share of the 2,500 to 3,000 black bears reported taken by hunters each year are eaten as food.

Given these numbers, the odds are at least 100 times greater that people will get the bear than that the bear will get them.

Was Vick's claim to the contrary the end of the nonsense (or even if I thought he'd simply made a bad try at humor), I might have been able to restrain myself from calling him out on this story, but he goes on to hype the situation unjustifiably.

"But this summer,'' he writes, "in a record year for maulings....''

Says who?

The story doesn't say. It just throws the observation out there. I frankly don't know if the claim is true or not. There is no clearinghouse for bear maulings in Alaska.

Tom Smith, a former U.S. Geological Survey biologist here and now a professor at Brigham Young University in Utah, struggled to pull together a database on past maulings some years back. He admits he probably didn't get a perfect count on the number of Alaska attacks, but he got the best one out there.

It shows attacks averaging about 10 to 20 per year with peaks of 26 in the late 1990s. Have there been more than 26 people attacked by bears so far this year in Alaska?

If so, it's news to me.

This is, indeed, a record year for bear attacks in the Anchorage area, what with two unprecedented maulings at Far North Bicentennial Park within sight of downtown, and another at Eagle River. But Anchorage is not "Alaska," even if the half-million-acre Chugach State Park in the center of our broadly drawn "municipality" can provide a real taste of that fabled place.
I doubt, however, that Vick has any idea of the scope of the municipality or how much wilderness it includes back behind the strip-mall urban edge. Like so many Outside writers who buzz through town, he appears clueless to the scope and variety of the 49th state. I'm frankly tired of it. Some basic reporting might help some of these people, although even that doesn't appear to work for Vick.

"...The summer of the bear is testing Alaskans' carefully calibrated relationship with wildlife, an evolving attitude that differs from views in the Lower 48, where grizzlies run half as large,'' he writes.

I've lived here more than 30 years, and I have no idea what "Alaskans' carefully calibrated relationship with wildlife'' is, but that's not the problem.

MONSTER BEARS

The problem is the idea that Alaska is filled with monster bears twice the size of any elsewhere. The weight of grizzly bears in the American West is in the range of 400 to 600 pounds for males and 250 to 350 pounds for females. Interior Alaska grizzlies are about the same or slightly smaller, and the farther north you go in the state, the smaller, in general, the bears get.

The full-grown grizzly that killed Richard and Katherine Huffman on the Hula Hula River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 2005 weighed only 300 pounds. Coastal Alaska bears are different. They are so much larger than Interior bears that Alaska bears were long divided into two categories -- grizzlies and coastal brown bears. That was until taxonomists finally figured out that a coastal brown bear is just a really well fed grizzly. The bears are now referred to in many circles as brown/grizzly bears.

Along the Katmai coast, big boars will indeed get to 1,200 pounds, maybe even more. Locally, here on the inland coast, a 900-pounder would be considered a big boy. That is only about a third again as large as one of those Lower 48 males. But, more importantly, weight tells the least important part of the story.

Those huge coastal grizzlies are animals that get that way by stuffing themselves with salmon. It would be an overstatement to describe these bears as "fat and happy" for most of the summer, but at least they don't come running from miles away as Interior and Arctic bears sometimes will, to check you out as a potential meal.

Let's not forget, Timothy Treadwell spent 13 summers engaging in his bear-fondling goofiness with the Katmai bears without a problem. He didn't get killed and, oddly enough, eaten until he ran into an unruly October bear -- a 28-year-old bear with broken teeth; a big, old bear needing calories to maintain its overgrown, 1,000-pound body size, a bear that scientists might describe as "food stressed."

Not to mention there's no telling what Treadwell might have done to provoke an attack. Bear biologists generally agree that if Treadwell had tried to get up close and personal with Denali National Park bears or Arctic refuge bears the way he did with Katmai bears, he wouldn't have lasted a summer.

BASIC FACTS WRONG

But I guess it could be as easy to overlook these differences among Alaska bears as it is to get other things simply confused. Vick again:

"...Don Smith, a telephone technician packing a .45 along with his fly rods as he prepared to float the Russian River, not far from the Kenai Princess Lodge.

"Grizzlies routinely fish the bright teal waters alongside humans in what 'feels like joint custody,' said Sherry Simpson, the professor."

Hmmm.

Carcass-eating bears routinely "fish" alongside anglers on the Russian but not the Kenai. The Russian, however, has crystal clear water. The teal water is in the Kenai River which runs past the Princess Lodge. The Kenai also has several places for floaters to put in and take out boats. There are no put ins or take outs on the Russian, but I guess Smith could have been dragging a boat through the Russian River Campground to the river.

I've always kind of wanted to float the Russian myself just to see the reactions of the anglers who line both banks in places.

The only thing stopping me is that I'm chicken.

The Russian is only about half-a-cast wide, and I've always feared that if you went floating through the middle of the salmon an angler or two might try to snag you in the nose with a fly or bounce a big old chunk of lead off your head.

Maybe Vick should go do this float. In his case, having a sinker bounced off his noggin might be a good thing.