Bear Identification

black bears in Glacier Bay
Black bears are common in Bartlett Cove

Glacier Bay National Park is home to brown/grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) and black bears (Ursus americanus). Black bears are found primarily in the forested regions of the lower bay, including Bartlett Cove, while brown bears live mainly in the open, recently deglaciated regions of the upper bay.

Which is Which?

Telling the difference between the two species can be tricky. Simply looking at color doesn’t help. A few key physical characteristics can help to clarify just what type of bear you have spotted.

Black bear feeding on devil's club plant
Black Bear

Black Bears
Black bears can be black, brown, blonde, even blue/gray -- as is the case of the rare color phase found in Southeast Alaska called the glacier bear. Black bears normally weigh up to 300 pounds, occasionally up to as much as 600 pounds. Black bears can be identified by their "roman nose" facial profile, flat upper back, and short curved claws. Black bears tend to live in forested areas, although they can be found anywhere from the beach to the alpine.

The following are some key characteristics of black bears:

  • Straight facial profile
  • Lack of a shoulder hump
  • Prominent ears
  • Short, curved claws
  • 3 feet at the shoulder
  • 125 to over 300 pounds
brown bear in Glacier Bay
Brown Bear

Brown Bears (also called grizzlies)

Brown bear is another name for grizzly bear and is used to differentiate the coastal residents from the interior-dwelling grizzly. Brown bears can be any shade from honey blonde to black. Brown bears normally weigh up to 900 pounds, occasionally up to as much as 1,400 pounds. They can be identified by their distinct shoulder hump, "dish-shaped" face, and long claws. Brown bears tend to dwell in open terrain, but can be found in the dense forest as well. The following are some key characteristics of brown bears:

  • Dish-shaped or concave facial profile
  • Prominent shoulder hump
  • Long, straight claws
  • 4 feet at the shoulder (up to 9 feet when standing on hind legs)
  • Average 500 to 1000 pounds
bear species distribution in Glacier Bay
map of black and brown bear distribution in Glacier Bay

Distribution of Bears in Glacier Bay
In Glacier Bay, black bears tend to inhabit the southern forested areas of the bay, while brown bears are more often seen in the northern, more recently glaciated zone. However, there is a large area of overlap between the two species in the mid-bay, and occasionally a black bear is sighted near the glaciers or a brown bear passes through Gustavus or Bartlett Cove.

View a distribution map based on bear sightings in the bay.

be alert for bear sign

Scat, Mark Trails, Rub Trees, and Bellyholes
Guide to Glacier Bay Bear Sign

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 140
Gustavus, AK 99826


(907) 697-2230

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