Go on, Embrace Your Inner Bear-Voyeur

It’s that time of year again already. You can’t make your way to Alaska to ogle coastal brown bears as they emerge from their winter’s slumber, and you just don’t know where to get your fix. Don’t worry: Katmai National Park has your back with delightful bearcams.

About 20,000 people visit Katmai National Park each year, cruising the boardwalks and viewing platforms to bask in wildlife frolicking in their natural environments. But what about all the rest of us stuck far away? Thanks to a grant from Explore.org, the park runs a series of webcams mounted on existing infrastructure and pointed at the places most frequented by their 2,200 bears. These bearcams are easily a highlight of the emerging spring.

If you spend enough time watching the bearcam (and really, why haven’t you?), you’ll quickly identify that the bears engage in a whole range of fishing practices. The most dominant bears get the prime spots—sitting and waiting in plunge pool jacuzzis at the base of the falls waiting for salmon to swim past. Patient bears just below them in the hierarchy find a good spot at the top of the falls, brace their paws, wait for salmon to jump within reach. If the bear doesn’t have enough clout to edge out their own space, they need to resort to the energy-intensive dash and grab attempting to pin fish to the river bottom. Near the end of the salmon run when dead and dying fish litter the river bottoms, bears might snorkel to look for them, or even dive.

Not every bear is a capable fisher. Some bears steal fish from their kin, pirating them. Smaller bears will sometimes run away with their fish into the forest to protect against pirates. While bears don’t share food willingly, that doesn’t keep some bears from begging by loudly vocalizing like a bawling cub. Rarely, they’ll succeed in getting their most tolerant dominant bear-friends abandon the leftover entrails, gill plates, and mandibles for them.

 

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