Hi and welcome to our weekly Bear Cam blog. We will be publishing this blog every week with a review of the previous weeks Bear Cam highlights. Brought to you by your bear cam Mods, LaniH and GABear.
While viewing bear cam this week you may have looked at your calendar to be sure it was in fact September and not July, with the amount of bears we have been seeing at the falls. Its like Christmas in July but we get July bear viewing in September. One night we were treated to 10 bears utilizing the falls. Many questioned why so many at the falls when we typically see more bears in the lower river eating dead or dying salmon. Mike Fitz who visited Brooks this September shared his thoughts on this:
“When I was at Brooks River last week, there were many silver salmon in the river. Since the run of silver salmon is later than the sockeye, the silvers are fresher and more energy-rich for hungry bears. The majority of the fish I saw bears catch at the falls were silver salmon. There are no current counts of the silver salmon run in this watershed. When a fish weir existed at the head of Brooks River, biologists counted several thousand silver salmon moving through it per year. This was during a time when salmon runs in Bristol Bay were lower than they are now. If the silver salmon run has increased proportionally to the sockeye run, then there may be more fresh fish for the bears to target. A high number of silver salmon is the best explanation I have for the congregation of bears at Brooks Falls this September.”
Most if not all of the salmon being caught at the falls are Silver salmon. Which are bigger and, since they arrive later in the season than Sockeye, are fresher and contain more calories. With so many large males at the falls, its seems they are still figuring the hierarchy.
Bear Hierarchy….. Seems odd to be having so many views and so much discussion about the hierarchy of the large males using the Brooks River in September. It has always seemed that the order of dominance among them was decided in the spring and summer while they battled for a food source and for access to females. This season has given me a different perspective on this thought in several ways. First, there was the absence of two dominant bears, 856 and 747 for all or most of the summer. 32 Chunk seemed to be next in line to step into the void – and it looked as though he did. As the summer wore on, though, his #1 position seemed to be a bit burdensome as he was seen attempting to “play” with another bear as well as “begging” or maybe pirating/stealing fish. Mike Fitz talked about 32 Chunk rising to the top of the bear hierarchy here, and Ranger Dave also had his thoughts on the rise of 32 Chunk here.
Fast forward to fall. Now we’ve seen both 747 and 856 return to the falls. 747 seemed clearly to expect to be in charge and set about making it so. He seems to have managed to use his intimidating size to exert dominance on most all the other large males at the falls. Enter 856. He too, still exudes some dominance and many bears yield to his approach. Except 747. Yet, 747 does not directly challenge 856. He will wait outside the Jacuzzi for 856 to leave and then assume a spot there. 856 will sometimes then wait for 747 to leave before attempting to return. Mike Fitz shared his thoughts on this behavior:
“In 2015, we watched a similar dynamic between 128 and 409 fishing the lip. Neither of these females tried to push the other off the lip. Instead, they waited their turn, moving into the best position after the other stepped away to eat her fish.
In these situations, the bears are nearly equal in rank, but subtle differences in body posture and movement can help us determine whether or not one animal is more dominant than the other. Regarding 747 and 856, watch how they move when they are near each other. While eating his fish, 747 often has his back completely turned away from 856. In contrast, as 856 eats his catch he often turns and faces 747. More dominant bears behave in an apparent confident manner, often disregarding the presence of nearby competitors. This seems to be how 747 acts around 856.
After being displaced by 32 Chunk, 856 no longer ranks at the top of the hierarchy. He’s hasn’t dropped far though and still ranks among the more dominant adult males. With his subtle swagger (if that’s an appropriate term) 747 continues to show other bears he’s not to be challenged.”
Once we saw what looked like 747 waiting outside the Jacuzzi until 856 started toward it…. then 747 also started toward it and beat 856 there. 856 did not challenge him. On Thursday, we saw – from a distance on the Riffles cam – 32 approach 856 near the island. They stood close for a bit, then 32 turned and walked away and went to the Jacuzzi to fish. Later, when 856 had assumed a position near the fallen log, 32 left the J to again approach him and 856 backed away; they stood very close for a bit before 32 again walked away.
Meanwhile, 32 and 474 continue to seem to challenge each other since their first altercation last week. 32 stalked 474 downriver and challenged him and “maybe” won that round. Video of the encounter can be seen here. 747 has in turn challenged and run off 474. 634 Popeye has also shown some dominance toward a few bears. And let’s not forget 480 Otis! Depending on the day, 480 has had words with, and refused to move for, both 747 and 32 – although he has yielded to 634. On other days, 480 seems to yield to most all the upper level dominant bears.
68, 151 Walker, and 503 Cubadult are about the only predictable regulars at the falls. They yield to all the dominant bears! And if they don’t, all three have found themselves on the wrong side of their anger and have been chased, charged and backed off. We have however seen 503 again trying to place himself somewhere in hierarchy. He was seen “racing” 480 Otis to the Jacuzzi and instead of backing off, actually tried to fish there next to 480 Otis. Video of the interaction can be seen here.
Keeping up with so many bears and their shifting balance of who gets to fish where is a little like Musical Bears…. Just when you figure out who is who and where they are, you look away for a minute and they all get up and move to new places! So,where do you place the males at the falls in the hierarchy? Who have you rated in your mind as #’s 1, 2, 3, 4??
There has been much discussion this week about a “new” bear we’ve been seeing at the falls. We have yet to confirm any ID, some that have been possibilities were 469 Patches, 500 Indy, and 89 Backpack. The bear was observed to be male which means that 500 Indy is no longer a possibility. What are your guesses or thoughts as to who this bear could be, or is it a completely new bear?
This bear was also seen early one morning at the falls, he had caught a salmon near the fish ladder and started to eat it. He looked up and noticed 128 Grazer and cubs approaching. He did what any bear would do climbed the fish ladder, looked back to see if they were still coming. Then proceeded to drop his fish and run! Video can be seen here.
The Moms with cubs and the sub adults continue to spend most of their time on the LR. We did see 708 and cubs near the falls earlier in the week and were treated to watching a very unique fishing style by one of the cubs.
On the Lower River we watched Holly’s coy catch a fish and then be chased by its sibling looking for an easy meal, video can be seen here. 435 Holly and cubs provided the bear cam community a few days of bear viewing pleasure by spending so much time near the cams. They were even followed down spit road by two subadults, seen here.
We’ve been treated to numerous play fight interactions between cubs or sub adults. Two sub adults led the cam op on a good chase as they raced first down the spit, then back up, then down again. (Great stuff, we wouldn’t see without our cam ops!).
When the sub adults and cubs aren’t overrunning the spit a couple of fat, old….. Er…uhm… generously proportioned, mature ladies – 410 and 94 – spend a good deal of time there sleeping or just sitting and watching the seagulls between bouts of snorkeling for fish in the Lower River area. At 28 years old, 410 is the oldest bear currently known to use the Brooks River regularly.
This week also saw the return of two bears and a family group we haven’t seen since July. 451 and her 3 coy returned to the lower river during a PBP by Ranger Dave, all her coys are looking very chubby and healthy. Bear 402 who emancipated her two cubs this year was also spotted on the lower river. And 83 Wayne Brother who is pretty easy to identify with his distinctive rump bump, courtesy of a wound he received from 747 last year. We were pretty sure we saw him on the lower river snorkeling but it wasn’t until he was seen at the falls that it was confirmed.
We were treated one morning to an amazing sunrise on the lower river, I’m always amazed at the colors of Katmai.
Bears seen this week include: 32 Chunk, 68, 94, 128 Grazer w/3 yearling cubs, 151 Walker, 171 w/2 yearling cubs, 409 Beadnose w/2 yearlings, 435 Holly w/2 coy, 410 Four-Ton, 451 w/3 coy, 474, 480 Otis, 503 Cubadult, 634 Popeye, 708 Amelia w/2 2.5 yr old cubs, 719, 747, 755 Scare D Bear, 854 Divot w/3 yearlings, 856, 879, 402, 83 Wayne Brother Looking for many more bear filled days to come!
Mike Fitz wrote a few blog posts about his recent trip to Brooks River: Day one, Day two, Day three, and Day four.
There was an Ask the Ranger chat on September 14th