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Mike Fitz’s favorite bearcam moments of 2018

Near the end of October, few salmon remain in Brooks River and bears begin to migrate to their denning sites. Like the bears’ metabolism in preparation for hibernation, solar power dwindles and the cams eventually go dark. The end of bear cam season can seem a bit melancholy for many of us who watch the cams frequently, but it’s also a great time to reflect upon the season that was. Here are a few of my favorite bear cam moments for 2018

The First Salmon
At Brooks River in late spring, I always feel a sense of anticipation. It’s a time of renewal, when the land regains its green hue and nearly twenty hours of daylight flood the sky. The return of salmon represent summer’s arrival and the beginning of a season of plenty. For bears, the first fish are especially important. Bears experience hunger in very different ways than people. By June, they have largely subsisted on body fat for the previous eight months, and salmon offer bears the opportunity to satisfy their profound hunger, at least temporarily. At Brooks Falls, we witnessed bears catch and eat their first salmon of the year. I could almost see a look of satisfaction on the bears’ faces as they feasted on their first significant meals.


480 Otis with salmon

The Bear Hierarchy
Brown bears live within a hierarchy where large body size and assertive dispositions provide greater access to food and other resources. Appearing fully healed from a 2017 leg injury, bear 856 regained his position at the top of the Brooks River hierarchy. His foothold wasn’t unchallenged, however.

An Exceptional August
I’ve come to expect few bears at Brooks River during August. This year my expectations were completely wrong. Bears fished continuously at Brooks Falls throughout August 2018. An impressive run of silver (coho) salmon kept bears well fed and motivated to stay. It reminded me that nothing at Brooks River is static.

bears at Brooks Falls_Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 5.01.26 PM

Plenty of food provided many young bears the time and energy to express their curiosity and playfulness. Bears are eager to investigate strange and new objects in their environment. Even things as common as a downed log can draw their attention if it presents a novel situation.

bear plays with log_08152018

Bears Get Fat
This was an expected event as bears eat a year’s worth of food in six months or less. Yet, I still marveled at their physical changes from early summer to fall. Bears can lose one-third of their body weight during hibernation, and salmon offer them the best opportunity to get fat and get fat quickly. By September, the bears demonstrated their tremendous ability to gain weight in preparation to survive the long winter ahead.

Screen Shot 2018-10-19 at 3.23.35 PM


No camera provides more novel views of Brooks River than the underwater cam. Attached to the bridge near the mouth of Brooks River, I never tired of watching salmon or swimming bears.
silver salmon face_10022018

underwater bear_2_09012018

When Brooks River’s bears disappear to their dens, it’s a time to reflect on the season that was. This summer I saw many examples of satisfaction, change conflict, hunger, and novelty. What were your favorite moments from the bear cam in 2018?

  • vbogan

    My favorite moments were cub related, except for that moment where we lost one of 132’s cubs. I love watching them explore their world, learning with every step they take. I have two favorite moments, the first was when 402 pounced on a fish in the river and her four cubs followed mom’s example and jumped into the river only to be swept down stream by the current. My second favorite moment was any time 132 was cuddling her remaining cub, such adoration.

    • Carol Loveless

      Every time I saw them together by eyes would get teary, they were just pure sweetness. Best moment with them was when they joined in on Mike and the Rangers chat and they have to move away.

      • vbogan

        Yes, they were so wonderful to watch. It was as if 132 realized how lucky she was that she still had the one baby, and continually showed it love.

    • https://fitznaturalist.com/ Mike Fitz

      It’s quite interesting to watch cubs mimic their mothers. When mom is nervous or stressed, they are stressed. When mother is relaxed, they are relaxed. Cubs are also eager to investigate every little bit of food that mom eats. They quickly ingrain lessons on how to find food and how to stay safe. 402’s cubs, if they are successfully weaned in a couple of years, could certainly return to the river as young, independent bears.

      • Naomi Boak

        I will never forget when 809 was a coy and he went after a full grown bear, mimicking his mother. A great example of what you are talking about.

  • Carol Loveless

    I had so many favorite moments – at least a dozen. Seeing how well the little first time on their own sub adults have done this year with the plentiful food just brought so many happy smiles. The success of 132 and her remaining COY after the trauma of early in the season shows how resilient these bears are – Mom did not have time to mourn her cub or her own wounds she still had one cub who despartely needed her. Watching the continuing story of 503 and his place in the Bear world of Katmai is such a privilege to watch. I can’t wait to see his continued rise to be King of Katmai.

    • https://fitznaturalist.com/ Mike Fitz

      Being able to watch the success and failures of subadult bears is one of the reasons the bearcams are special. We get to see their maturation from young, often timid or skittish bears to large, confident adults. This year, provided ample opportunity for us to watch them learn and mature.

  • Deborah-TX (2014)

    The arctic ground squirrel using the new dumpling microphone as a free bedding and food station.
    The new cams- at the falls and the new direction with the underwater cam. Both opened new viewing perspectives
    274 body surfing (pic) https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cfe7397bc003dceb878d355cd3c0bd81b0d76e0c3ff483ba0cbbea3eea5e32e7.jpg

    • https://fitznaturalist.com/ Mike Fitz

      At the falls, bears use a wide variety of fishing techniques, but I’m not sure I ever saw a bear try to catch a fish while fully prone.

      • Deborah-TX (2014)

        I doubt any of the other bears will adopt it;-)

  • https://www.facebook.com/groups/1897654693792487/ Linda Jett_Joanie_IRL_Joanie

    I think my most memorable moment was on Mount Dumpling when I spotted a bear’s back inspecting the DM Cam. June 23 2018 (1 PIC)


  • Naomi Boak

    Two sad and joyous moments or events. When 451 and her cubs came back mid season looking so skinny and hungry, my heart broke. But when they returned in late season all fat and tubby, I was elated. She’s had a tough life and seeing her with 3 healthy offspring was marvelous.
    On the flip side, my heart sang when 410 returned to the Falls. Love that bear. But a lingering pang remains because we never saw her again, and I fear may never ever see her again. What a bear.

    • https://fitznaturalist.com/ Mike Fitz

      The growth of 451’s yearlings demonstrated that bears live in a world of feast and famine. They were quite thin in early summer, but by feasting on salmon they plumped up substantially by the beginning of October. They looked to be in good shape for winter hibernation.

      410’s absence from the river was surprising to me. When I saw her in June, I expected her to remain at the river in July, especially since we’ve watched her fish at there for decades. She could be deceased, but bears can also change their habits. Each year, fully mature adult bears, who we’ve never seen before, arrive at the falls to fish. Some stay and some don’t . I’m sure the reverse happens (although probably less frequently) and bears sometimes leave to make a living elsewhere.

      • Naomi Boak

        I also think that 451 and her cubs healthy growth speaks to the resilience you so often mention.
        I will hope that 410 found another place to make a living, but given her age, I think we may not see her again. But such is life and she has had a good one.