Last updated: August 28, 2016
Photo Courtesy of Anela Ramos.
As visitors, cam viewers, and rangers endure the lean bear viewing month of August, we’ll be taking a look back at some of the bear stories that have developed over the first half of the season.
Sows with cubs have been a huge part of the bear viewing experience at Brooks Camp this year. Though lip fishing bears like 409, 128, and 402 have spent less time pleasing photographers on the top of the falls, they have entertained from afar, caring for spring cubs along the cut-bank and below the riffles platform. Though fishing is less productive in those areas, sows with cubs generally spend more time below the falls to avoid larger, dominant bears that may prey on vulnerable cubs.
Photo courtesy of A. Ramos
128 “Grazer” has been an excellent case study for how sows with cubs adapt to a new set of circumstances — a need to balance the demands of their own survival, and the drive to protect their otherwise helpless cubs.
Through the month of July, 128 “Grazer” has demonstrated how balancing those conflicting needs is, like many things in the bear world, a learning process. 128’s three spring cubs are her first litter. Soon after arriving to the Brooks River, she fiercely defended her cubs when 83 “Wayne Brother” approached too close to the family group on his way to the falls. Just a few days later, 128 also charged 402, chasing her away from the river. Both of the bears 128 drove off are much larger than her.
“Grazer’s” aggressive disposition worked well for warding off threats, but presented another issue: too much time was spent worrying about the dangers around her and her cubs, and not enough time was spent catching fish. Her physique showed the lack of balance between the two needs. Even by mid July, 128 looked as thin as a lean spring bear. It is normal for sows with cubs to be skinnier than they are without cubs. Caring for cubs means less time fishing, and the calories gained by fish that are caught are “shared” among the family. Slowly but surely, “Grazer” adapted her behavior to compensate.
Left: Photo Courtesy of T. Carmack. Right: Photo Courtesy of D. Kopshever
Throughout the middle of July, we watched 128 inch closer and closer to the falls. She became less stressed by the presence of other bears, allowing large males like 480 to approach within a dozen yards or closer. She spent less time looking over her shoulder and more time with her eyes trained on the schools of salmon in front of her. Towards the end of July, 128 even got up onto the lip, sometimes treeing her cubs while she fished. Still, “Grazer” remained vigilant.
As are all bears, “Grazer” and her cubs were often at great risk by fishing at the falls. Late in July, 128 again needed to defend her cubs aggressively, this time against the largest bear on the river, 747. A few days later, her cubs were swept over the falls, sending “Grazer” into a frenzied panic. In each brush with danger, 128 successfully protected her cubs. So far, “Grazer” seems to be winning in the “risk vs. reward” game of survival.
Photo courtesy of A. Ramos
As a result of her adapted behavior, “Grazer” has put on more weight. Her cubs have too. If and when we see “Grazer” again in the fall, there is no guarantee she will have all, or any, of her cubs with her. But whether she raises her cubs to be weaned or not, 128 is on her way to being a successful bear. As the season continues, we all hope to watch as she continues to balance the demands of her own survival against those of her cubs.
Tune in to Explore.org to watch the #bearcam live, from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. Learn more about the individual bears of the Brooks River with Katmai's free bear ID book, at https://www.nps.gov/katm/learn/photosmultimedia/ebooks.htm