Bear Identification

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5 minutes, 21 seconds

This four-minute video will help you distinguish between Glacier Bay's two bear species.


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 sow and cub on sandy beach
Black bear sow and cub


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 on rocks
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

Last updated: March 12, 2018

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Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve
PO Box 140

Gustavus, AK 99826


907 697-2230

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