Photo Courtesy of A. Ramos.
As July 2016 comes to a close and we enter into 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 last month.
Bear ID’s can be tricky, even for seasoned bear viewers. As bears shed, change color, gain weight, heal and gain new scars, they can sometimes be mixed up with each other. Add in the fact that new bears can show up on the scene at any point, and it’s a wonder we don’t confuse more bears for one another.
This July, a new bear, possibly one that has visited in past fall months, has been making frequent visits to the falls. He has been identified by many as 274 “Overflow,” because of a similar shed pattern around his face and neck. However, there are some striking differences between these two bears. In contrast to 274, this bear has a more roman nose, and distinctive scarring around his face and neck. The most distinctive scar runs horizontally all the way across his left shoulder, though it will likely not be visible after his winter coat grows in. This new bear also has much wider set ears than 274. We know from his size and presence of genitalia that this new bear is a male, though age has not been determined.
Some interesting behavioral characteristics are unique as well. The mystery bear, as I have been calling him, takes almost all his fish to the far rock to eat. By the time he has filled up on fish and left the falls for the day, a pile of skin-stripped salmon carcasses are piled on his favorite river boulder. Our mystery bear is also slightly more aggressive than 274. Though not a fish stealer (as 274 has been observed practicing) and not significantly larger than 274, the mystery bear has challenged 480 and 755 for fishing access on more than one occasion. Within a few days of his arrival, this new bear has firmly established himself as a medium-high ranking bear in the Brooks Falls bear hierarchy.
I was at first puzzled by the appearance of this new mystery bear. I looked through the bear ID book and bear management records, thinking over and over, “I must be missing something.” He did resemble 274, and although some viewers in the chat referred to him as such, I was unconvinced. Still, I had no alternative answer.
It wasn’t until a week later that I was at the falls during one of Ranger Leslie’s monitoring sessions that I was able to confirm my suspicion, that this was a new bear to visit the falls. Ranger Leslie has suggested that the mystery bear looks familiar, and perhaps has visited the river in the fall months, though she is not certain.
Numbers are generally assigned at the end of each season for bears who are new to the Brooks River, or who are on their own for their first season. We will have to wait to see whether our mystery bear gets a new number, or whether a more obscure bear will be entering into our scope of awareness. Either way, look out for him in next year’s update of the bear ID book.