What Do Glacier Bay Bears Eat?
Brown bear eating mussels at low tide.
Both black and brown bears are omnivores and eat a wide variety of plant and animal foods in Glacier Bay. Bears do not defend a specific territory like some other large predators, and they tend to roam widely in search of food, the males more so than the females. However, bears will often defend a limited food resource, especially a carcass, from encroachment by other bears or humans.
Emerging vegetation in the spring is very important for bears, and they are often seen grazing on shoreline grasses, sedges, and intertidal plants. Bears eat wild celery (Angelica spp.), cow parsnip (Heracleum lanatum) and other 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. Brown bears use their long claws to dig up plants such as sweet-vetch (Hedyserum alpinum) and Oxytropis spp. roots, and both brown and black bears forage on ground cone (Bochnakia rossica) which is commonly found associated with alder thickets. For a complete list of plants that are potential food for bears in Glacier Bay, click here.
Watch the brown bear searching for and eating the delicacies found at low tide in Glacier Bay.
- 2 minutes, 5 seconds
When the tide is low, bears utilize Glacier Bay's extensive intertidal zone for foraging. 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 fishes) that live underneath.
Glacier Bay bears also eat whales!
Check out the "Blubber Bonanza"
Salmon are very important to bears in the late summer and fall. There are several large well-established salmon streams in the southern part of the bay and a few in the northern bay as well. As the glaciers retreat and the streams mature, salmon are slowly beginning to colonize more and more streams in the northern part of the bay. While some new salmon streams still show relatively light use by bears, these food sources will likely continue to grow and will possibly support expanded bear populations in the future.
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