Swimming Bears – How Well Can Bears Swim?

Swimming Bears – How Well Can Bears Swim?

A popular question many people have in regard to bears is if they can swim efficiently? Well, as a matter of fact, they can. Not only can they swim, but they’re very good at it! All different bear species of North America, including black bears, coastal brown bears, grizzly and Kodiak bears, which are subspecies of the brown bear, and polar bears all enjoy spending time in the water and are amazingly graceful swimmers. They can also swim quite fast…up to 6 mph, whereas we humans can generally swim between 2-3 mph

Much of a bear’s time spent in the water is for the purposes of fishing or looking for other food sources, as well as a means of simply getting where they’re going as they roam around the wilderness, but bears also take to the water for the sheer enjoyment of getting wet, cooling down, and going for a nice swim. And sometimes, that swim can be quite long! Although I haven’t confirmed it with wildlife biologists as of yet, an Alaskan bush pilot once told me the story of a Kodiak bear who swam all the way from Kodiak Island, across the Shelikof straight, over the Katmai National park area on the mainland of Alaska…which is a distance of 25-30 miles. Even more amazing than that, polar bears can regularly swim over 30 miles at a time, and in one study, a polar bear swam 220 miles all in one shot.

swimming bear
Bears are fantastic swimmers! Especially polar bears!

Bears are very strong, naturally, and many bears are also very fat, which helps them stay afloat as they paddle along up and down rivers, across lakes, and even out in the ocean.

The Adventures of King Kodiak, The Biggest Brown Bear in the World, Joseph Classen
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Here is a video version of this article which features many images and video clips of swimming bears.

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How to photograph bears. Photography book. Joseph Classen.
To learn more about bears, check out my book, How to Photograph Bear – The Beauty of the Beast.