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Monday, July 30, 2012

Alaskan / Canadian Photo Safari - Day Thirteen

A Beary Cute Family Portrait

Go Climb A Tree

The Brown Bear is perhaps the most archetypal of all bear species and shows incredible geographical diversity, and the single species recognized today was at one point in history divided into 232 living and 39 fossil species and subspecies. Some of the more well-known subspecies of Brown Bear include the Grizzly Bear, named for its silver tipped fur, and the Kodiak Bear, the largest form of Brown Bear, which can weigh over 1500 pounds, and is found on Kodiak island off southern Alaska.

Today, the Brown Bear is most commonly hunted for sport, or poached for the appalling commercial trade in bear paws and gall bladders. Hunting legislation varies between countries, but where permitted, it is controlled through the use of permits and maximum annual quotas. However, due to difficulties with the development of monitoring plans, the sustainability of quotas in some regions is questionable, and there are also significant problems with illegal hunting, such as in the Russian Far East and South East Asia.

In the US, the term Brown or Grizzly Bear is generally used interchangeably. Grizzly bears usually pair off with each other after the males have defeated all their challengers. They mate in the summer and hibernate for the winter. Sows (female bears) give birth while they are hibernating and the cubs are about the size of one's big thumb at birth. They generally have about two to three cubs but sometimes four or in rare cases, even five but a big litter usually do not survive the hibernation. The mother and cubs emerge from their den around late spring and they are ravenous and start eating vegetation immediately to clear their digestive system after the long sleep.  After that they go find anything edible. That would include Elk calves, squirrels, carrion, etc. Generally, salmons are on the diet for Bears living along the coasts in Alaska. Their emergence from the den coincides with the salmon runs in the summer if their fortunes hold in a good year.  

I went with a guide who is very experienced in bear watching but a loaded shotgun is required in addition to good photographic equipment because surprising a sow with cubs can be deadly. The mother is very protective of anything or bear she perceives as threatening to her young. The places we visited had good salmon runs and both Black and Grizzly bears were spotted. Many sows have cubs and I saw a litter of three and even a litter of four. Sadly, less then 50% of the cubs survive their first year. They can be killed by male bears, other predators, inclement weather or just poor mothering skills. I saw this small Black bear cub wandering around the woods without its mother. The outcome seems inevitable and very sad to me.  

It is proving to be quite tough to find Orcas in the waters off eastern Vancouver Island. Went up and down Johnstone Strait and the surrounding waters and the sightings were slim. Came across a few unexpected Humpback whales but I already have many photos and encounters with Humpbacks in SE Alaska. I want to concentrate on finding Orcas in the next few days.

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