How do biologists study bears in Glacier Bay?
What can you learn about bears from examining their scat?
What can we learn from bear scat that can help park managers and visitors prevent bear-human conflict?
Our "Bears of Glacier Bay" curricula unit is divided into three lesson plans, each taking one class session to complete. They are part of our "Middle School Scientists" series that explore the fascinating research and resources of Glacier Bay National Park.
Check out the other lessons:
Park researchers use scientific tools and observation to study bear populations in Glacier Bay. Visible signs like well worn trails, rub trees, claw marks, tracks, and scat help researchers identify where bears spend their time, what they eat, if they are sick, and much more. Scat is one of the most important signs to look for when in the field. Bears are omnivores and their scat often contains identifiable remnants of their last meal such as grass, berries, seeds, fish bones, or hair. The scat varies quite dramatically depending on what the bear is eating at a particular time of year.
In the spring, bears are often seen grazing on young shoreline grasses, sedges, and other plants. Brown bears use their long claws to dig up plant roots such as sweet-vetch. Bears feed on beach and meadow plants throughout the spring and summer, and feast on the wide variety of berries that ripen in the late summer and fall.
When the tide is low, bears forage in Glacier Bay's extensive intertidal zone. Both black and brown bears can be seen scraping barnacles off of rocks and munching mussels. Occasionally brown bears are observed turning over large rocks and pouncing on the pricklebacks and gunnels (small eel-like fish) that live underneath.
Salmon are very important to bears in the late summer and fall. Bears eat many other animals when they get the opportunity, including such items as bumblebees, sand fleas, bird eggs, birds, voles, marine mammal carcasses stranded by the tide, and occasionally even other bears. Moose calf hooves have been found in bear scat in the lower bay, and brown bears in the upper bay have been seen patrolling spring avalanche slopes probably in search of winter mountain goat casualties.
Bear scat is a good indicator of bear activity. Scat tells us what a bear is eating and where bears have been. Some bears may feed on a carcass for several weeks, and a bear during this time could be very dangerous. Learning to identify scat, and reading these signs can help park managers and visitors take preventative measures to reduce bear-human conflict.
There are a few handouts to complete this lesson.
Additional Materials Needed:
The entire lesson plan is available HERE.
Show students the library of black bear scat on the following website - http://www.bear-tracker.com/blackbearscat.html This will give them an idea of how variable bear scat can be at different times of the year. Have students make a list of different items they may expect to find in bear scat. Tell students they are going to become bear biologists in charge of analyzing a sample of bear scat.
Biologists can tell a lot about bears from examining their scat. After students graph their data, ask them "What did you learn about your bear by examining the scat?" Allow them to talk with a partner to develop their thought processes and understandings of the scientific method. Ask each student to write their hypothesis in their science journals. Discuss how food type can indicate time of year or place.
Bears of Glacier Bay Assessment
The following pre and post tests provide assessment for material covered by the entire Bear Curriculum series (Investigations 1-3)
Use the Glacier Bay Bear Scat Handout to compare student samples to actual scat samples found in Glacier Bay. How do they compare and why?
Official Glacier Bay National Park Website:
Alaska Department of Fish and Game - Wildlife Notebook Series: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=educators.notebookseries
International Association for Bear Research and Management: