Southeast Alaska has a healthy and thriving population of both black and Brown Bears.
The American black bear (Ursus americanus) is a medium-sized bear native to North America. It is the continent’s smallest and most widely distributed bear species. Black bears are omnivores, with their diets varying greatly depending on season and location.
The brown bear (Ursus arctos) is found across much of northern Eurasia and North America. It is one of the largest terrestrial carnivores, rivaled in body size only by its close cousin, the polar bear (Ursus maritimus), which is much less variable in size and slightly larger on average. The inland, versus coastal, population is referred to as Grizzly Bears, with the demarcation line at twenty five miles from salt water. The Kodiak bear is a brown bear that lives on Kodiak Island.
The brown bear is a global, norther species found in Russia, Central Asia, China, Canada, the United States (mostly Alaska), Scandinavia, and the Carpathian region (especially Romania), Anatolia, and Caucasus. The brown bear is recognized as a national and state animal in several European countries.
In Southeast Alaska where Alaskan Song operates private yacht cruises, both black and brown bears can be found throughout the mainland. On the islands of the Alexander Archipelago (the Inside Passage) Alaskan brown bears can be found exclusively on Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichigof (ABC) Islands with no black bears or wolves. Black bears dominate the rest of the Islands to the south and do coexist with wolves. There are no brown bears south of the ABC Islands.
On most of Alaskan Song’s yacht charters primarily brown bears are seen. Brown bears hibernate in the high country, above the snow line, so as to avoid thawing and freezing, a potential deadly threat. They emerge from hibernation in the spring, the females with their newborns accompanying. Born naked and pink, in the dead of winter, about the size of a small rat, their mother does not even wake up for their birth. Litters of up to four occur, although survival of more than two is uncommon. They are strong swimmers and can be seen occasionally swimming across major channels between the islands
Alaska bear viewing tours begin in the spring when brown bears feed on shoreside tender grass shoots in the spring, grazing much like cattle. They can be see along the shore at the beginning of our Alaska yacht charter season. In late June to early July they are still grazing but spend more of their time back in the woods eating the ripening berries. By late July, the salmon are starting to enter the rivers and streams, bringing the bears back down to the shoreline, at the estuaries and mouths. Kayaks make a very safe way to experience bears at reasonably close distances while remaining safe.
While normally a serene, peaceful and playful animal, brown bears can be a powerful, energetic and lethal threat if angered or frightened.
Basic guidelines for safe hiking in bear country are:
- It is the bear’s domain…you are a visitor.
- Always travel in a group, remaining closely together…no stragglers
- Do not carry any food on your hike…bears have a much keener sense of smell than dogs!
- Make noise, speak loudly, sing or whistle…you are much less likely to surprise a bear if he can hear you coming.
- If you choose to carry either a gun or pepper spray, practice with either one.
© 2018 Richard Friedman – text & photographs