In the Field

The Brown Bears of Brooks Falls – Part 2 – Death-Defying Mother Bear and Cubs – Katmai National Park – Alaska

The Brown Bears of Brooks Falls – Part 2 – Death-Defying Mother Bear and Cubs Katmai National Park - Alaska

Welcome to part two of the Bears of Brooks Falls series. In this edition, we’ll take a look at a very brave and determined mother brown bear as she trains her cubs in the ways of bear survival while also striving to attain the food they need for hibernation. During the abundant summer salmon run, when thousands of migrating fish swim up the Brooks River in order to spawn, the area becomes a school of survival for brown bear cubs. While striving to attain the massive amount of food they need for winter hibernation, mother bears teach their young a variety of fishing techniques, all of which I’ve explored in a past video if you’d like to learn more. Along with learning how to effectively catch fish, the female bears, known as sows, also teach their cubs critical survival skills, with one of the most important lessons being the ability to weigh the need for food with the exposure to danger.

As is the case in similar locations throughout coastal regions of Alaska, many different brown bears congregate along the Brooks River, especially at the popular falls area, which makes it a very dangerous place for cubs, as some of the older, larger bears will sometimes kill and eat small cubs. This is a reality that many people find quite shocking and disturbing. I’ll be making a separate blog and video about this topic later, so stay tuned for that.

The Adventures of King Kodiak, The Biggest Brown Bear in the World, Joseph Classen
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The largest, most aggressive, and dominant bears tend to hang out around the falls area on the Brooks River to catch their fish, as a result, the sows and cubs typically move downstream where the fishing is not as good, but it’s generally a much safer place for the younger, smaller bears to avoid a potentially lethal encounter. Because of this danger factor along the Brooks River and Brooks Falls area, sows and cubs usually stay on the move instead of just hanging around in one spot to fish, as many of the larger bears do. Staying on the move and fishing in different areas keeps the sows and cubs from being an easy target for aggressive, cub-eating male bears.

That was not the case with this particular sow and cubs, however. While she certainly spent plenty of time fishing downstream from the falls, she also boldly moved right up to the falls area to fish with her cubs, all the while aggressively fighting off larger, male bears who didn’t seem to appreciate her challenging their dominance. Not only that, but she eventually went all the way up and fished right in the falls, which is typically a spot reserved for the biggest, most dominant bears.

mother brown grizzly bear and cubs charging
The death-defying sow and cubs charge a larger brown bear near Brooks Falls.

 

Otis the big brown bear of Brooks Falls faces off with a mother brown grizzly bear and her cubs
A huge male brown bear faces off with the sow and her cubs.

Indeed, it was quite a daring display to see this sow and her cubs take on the established bear hierarchy in such a manner. She is either a ferociously powerful, death-defying mother bear who has earned the respect of her rivals, or, she’s rather inexperienced and is putting herself and her cubs in grave danger. Only time will tell. While mother bears have an incredibly strong bond with their cubs and will aggressively protect them from harm, it’s interesting to note that they also abandon their cubs after only the second or third year together. When the sow is ready to mate again, she’ll abruptly drive away her cubs, leaving them to fend for themselves, and will continue to rather fiercely enforce that separation if the cubs try to come back. It certainly seems a little heartless and cruel, but as I often remind folks, wild nature and the world of the bears is certainly not like a Disney movie where the animals all peacefully live together in the forest happily ever after. The Alaskan wilderness is beautiful, but it can also be brutal and rather indifferent to life and death. Thus, it’s a domain that demands great caution and great respect at all times.

In the next blog and video in the Bears of Brooks Falls series, we’ll meet Otis, one of the oldest, biggest, fattest brown bears along the Brooks River, so be sure to subscribe to this channel so you’d don’t miss out.

Watch the video below to see more!

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