By: Mike Fitz
Earlier this month, I shared my favorite bearcam moments, but now the people have spoken! Bearcam viewers have chosen the top ten bearcam moments of 2018. Each moment is unique and significant for a different reason.
Bear 410 Arrives
In late June, bear 410 arrived at the river then abruptly departed after a day. How does a bear who was at the river for such a short time make this list? Her appearance might not have captured much attention if it didn’t confirm the survival of Brooks River’s oldest known bear.
Born in 1989, we’ve come to know 410 as a bear who routinely uses Brooks River, but this summer she was not seen after late June. Although we don’t know why 410 stayed at Brooks River only briefly this summer, she’s been able to survive far longer than most other bears despite the challenges posed by the environment and other bears. As one of the elders of Brooks River, her longevity demonstrates a level of individual success few bears achieve.
By exhibiting a high tolerance for other bears as well as a playful energy rarely matched among other brown bears, 503 continued to show that there is more to a brown bear’s life than eating salmon.
However, fans of 503 may want to adopt a financial advisor’s disclaimer regarding this bear: “past performance is not indicative of future results.” In 503, we see a young adult male who continues to grow rapidly. He has the potential to become a very large and dominant bear. As he matures into a large adult, he may not be as playful or tolerant as we now see.
274 Goes Over the Falls
Hunger is a powerful motivator for any animal, and this is especially true of bears. We watched several bears successfully fish the lip of the falls this summer. However, salmon aren’t consistently available to all bears.
Stealing is just one of many fishing techniques employed by hungry bears. Bear 274 bellowed and growled at 409 Beadnose, but she wasn’t willing to give up her fish right away. When she did, the fish slid over the falls as did 274 in a miscalculated pursuit of the loot. On a day when 274 was more well fed, he might not have been so eager to attempt the theft. It also shows why bears choose their steps carefully when they approach the lip of Brooks Falls.
402 Returns with Four Cubs
Mother bears are challenged to raise their cubs to an age when they are weaned. Illness, a lack of food, and other bears are just a few of the threats that cubs face. This is even more challenging for mothers raising multiple cubs.
402 has been in this situation before. Not only is this her sixth known litter, it is also her second litter of four cubs. Despite long odds, 402 protected all four of her cubs throughout the summer. When she was last seen this October, the family appeared to be healthy. There’s no guarantee that 402 will return with all four cubs next summer, but this year’s large salmon run provided the family with ample opportunities to prepare for the long winter ahead.
Otis and the Jumping Fish
480 Otis knows patience is a virtue. When fishing the falls, he’s found most often in the far pool or the jacuzzi, places he can wait for salmon to come to him. He has less success outside of those places, but that doesn’t mean he’s not willing to pass up a chance to grab an easy meal.
Bears gain experience and skill as they mature. Older bears are often more efficient when fishing compared to younger, less experienced bears. A younger bear might’ve been driven to chase a fish leaping repeatedly in front of him. Otis, on the other hand, maintained his composure and waited with an open mouth. While it didn’t work, he once again showed that chasing a fish is not always worth the effort.
151 Walker and 708 Amelia
These two adults, one male and one female, were caught in a rare moment of restfulness early this summer, perhaps brought about by copulation. Male bears “court” females simply by following the female until she is receptive to his advances. Sometimes, they only need a few minutes together, but often the male may need to doggedly follow a female for days. After mating, the partners can lounge and sometimes even play. The bond, however, is short lived and they soon go their separate ways, sometimes within moments of mating. Walker and Amelia did not associate with each other for the rest of the summer. Courtship in bears is an ephemeral affair.
Live Chat Surprise Guests: 132 and Her Spring Cub
This was an exciting few moments for Ranger Andrew LaValle and me. Bear 132 and her spring cub nearly walked on top of us while we were engrossed in a live broadcast on the bearcams. It was another remarkable example of how special Katmai really is and how complicated interactions with bears can be.
A Mom and Cub Play
In July, the most dominant male bear at Brooks River, 856, killed one of 132’s cubs. At the time, the survival of her remaining cub was not assured as mom and cub were separated for about two hours. Bear 132 was able to track down her cub in the aftermath of the infanticide and spent the rest of the summer devoting her resources to its survival.
By late summer, the family was frequently seen in the lower Brooks River area, where the cub often displayed a high level of curiosity and playfulness. Watching this family play represents a moment of joy for a couple of bears that had survived a traumatic event just a couple months before.
480 Otis Gets Biopsied
As part of a study to better understand the population genetics of Katmai’s bears, Michael Saxton, a wildlife technician for Katmai National Park, is currently sampling DNA from bears across the park, including Brooks River. The main goal of the research is to determine if there are significant genetic differences between bears who live on Katmai’s Pacific Coast and those who reside farther inland. (Learn more about the study.)
The DNA samples collected at Brooks River also have a side benefit: they may help to determine the paternity of some of the bears at Brooks River. Male bears play no role in raising their offspring, so paternity in brown bears can only be conclusively determined through a DNA test. Has Otis sired any of the bears we see at Brooks River? Maybe. Then again, maybe he’s sired none. Fans of Otis are waiting (not-so) patiently for the results.
Dancing Bear on the Lip of Brooks Falls
Bears aren’t known for their rhythm, but bear 812 often bobbed his head and swatted his paw at the water when he fished the lip of the waterfall. Why he does this remains a mystery.
Other bears will move in peculiar ways, especially on the lip of the falls. 409 Beadnose often holds one of her front paws out in a way suggesting she’s poised to lunge at jumping salmon. 775 Lefty bobbles his head almost constantly while fishing there. Perhaps these behaviors give the bears no advantage when fishing at this location. It could just be an expression of “nervous” energy brought about by the promise of food leaping toward their face. Whatever the reason, it provides viewers with the opportunity to use their behavior as a clue to their individual identities. It was difficult to mistake 812 for any other bear when he was fishing on the lip.
Many of Katmai’s brown bears are moving toward their denning areas right now. Jiggling with ample fat reserves, they’ll spend the winter hibernating in excavated dens. They’ll be much thinner, and quite hungry, when they first arrive at Brooks River next year and we’ll have another opportunity to accumulate dozens of favorite moments and gain greater insight into their lives.