The Alaskan coastal brown bear is an intelligent and impressive animal. Although classified as “loners” the coastal brown bears we visit during our Alaska bear viewing tours in Katmai are quite social, and often congregate in large groups around food sources such as salmon runs and sedge grass meadows. Bears often interact with one another, which makes for entertaining bear watching. Bears communicate with one another using body language, posturing, and vocalizations that can range from roars to huffs to sharp popping sounds. Grizzly bear vs. grizzly bear confrontations are rarely physical, unless the bears are playing for fun. Cubs as well as adult bears often tumble, wrestle, play chase, and hang out with other bears during their free time.
One reason Alaska brown bears are such exciting animals to be watching in the wild is their intelligence. There are many fascinating examples of brown bear intelligence and tool use – they rub the plant lovage into their fur as a natural bug repellent and eat volcanic ash to get rid of intestinal parasites. Alaska Brown bears live for 20 to 25 years and have distinct personalities. Although called “brown” bears they vary in coloration from almost black to a very light blonde. Grizzly bears and brown bears are the same species, although “brown” bear is more often used to describe coastal bears. The Alaska grizzly bear population is estimated at about 30,000, and about 3,000 grizzly bears reside in Katmai National Park.
Another thrilling thing about our bear watching tours is seeing first hand the immense size of these bears! Some exceptionally large Alaska brown bears rival the polar bear for the title of the largest living land predator. Female bears weigh between 200 to 800 lbs, and male’s range in size from 300 to 1500 lbs. Watching an animal in the wild that weighs over one thousand pounds is something you will never forget. Many guests on our tours describe it as a “Jurassic park” like experience. Bears along the coast of Alaska tend to be larger than inland grizzlies because they have more access to meat in the form of salmon.
The bears that we will be seeing in Katmai on our Alaska bear watching tours congregate in large groups due to the abundant food sources concentrated in relatively small coastal areas. If you are watching brown bears in May and June on our tours you will most likely witness bears digging for clams on the coastal mudflats and feasting on high protein sedge grass, which grows near the coastline. You will also witness mating behavior during this time. Alaska brown bears of both sexes reach sexual maturity at 4 to 7 years of age. The mating season is from early May to mid July. Some of the most exciting bear behavior to observe is during this mating time period.
Mothers with small cubs tend to appear as the mating season winds down, so you are most likely to see them July-September. A typical litter is 2 cubs, but litters can be in the range of 1 to 4 cubs. The number of cubs born depends on how fat and healthy their mother was when she enters the winter den. Cubs are born around January while in the den and remain with their mothers for two and a half to three and a half years. Brown bear cubs are curious, playful, mischievous balls of fur. Few things will bring a bigger smile than watching Alaska bear cubs tumbling around in the wild.
Although brown bears have a reputation as carnivorous predators they are actually omnivores and at most times eat primarily vegetation, sedges, grasses and roots. Like humans, bears have flat, wide molars for grinding up plant material. Bears are opportunistic and utilize a wide variety of food sources as they become available.
When the salmon arrive in the rivers in July that’s where you will find most bears. Salmon runs vary from year to year and among species of salmon, but July through September is when most salmon arrive on the Katmai coast. On our bear watching tours we often see bears feeding on salmon. Salmon is the primary source of meat for coastal grizzly bears in Katmai, although bears are not averse to scavenging. In 2008 large numbers of Katmai grizzly bears congregated around a large humpback whale carcass that washed to shore.
Lazy-Bear-Slleping-on-His-BackSome of the grizzly bears in Katmai National Park have been habituated (gotten used to) human bear watchers.
This means that the bears go about their natural lives while humans are near them and viewing them. This makes Katmai National Park the best place in the world to view wild grizzly bears. It is also an example to the rest of the world of how it is possible for bears and humans to peacefully co-exist side by side. We hope you will join us on one of our Alaska bear watching tours.