Sunday, August 21, 2016

Brown Bear - Chichagof Island, Alaska

My post on grizzly bears noted that scientists now view the North American brown bear as one subspecies of brown bear, with two ecotypes, the coastal brown bear and the inland grizzly bear. That post featured the inland grizzly bear in Denali NP, a bear with primarily a vegetarian diet. This post features coastal brown bears on Chichagof Island, in Southeastern Alaska, bears that eat lots of salmon and get much larger than the inland grizzly bears. 
Chichagof Island is part of the Alexander Archipelago which consists of 1,100 islands. It is the second largest island of the archipelago, after Prince of Wales Island, and one of what is known as the ABC islands, also including Admiralty Island, which is third in size, and Baranof Island, which is fourth in size.  Chichagof is west/southwest of Juneau, west of Admiralty Island and north of Baranof Island. Chichagof is 75 miles long, by 50 miles wide, has a land area of 2,048 square miles, and a population of 1,342 persons as of the 2000 census. Chichagof is entirely within the Tongass National Forest and is a temperate rain forest. It also has the highest number of bears per square mile in the world, although I have seen the same claim for Admiralty Island
The beautiful temperate rain forest on Chichagof Island.
We were in Juneau on a Princess Cruise and took a shore excursion with Bear Creek Outfitters. We were driven from the cruise ship to the Juneau Airport where we got on a small float plane. There were ten of us from the cruise ship and a guide and we were flown over by two small planes. It was a 30 or 40 minute flight each way, which took us over Admiralty Island. We landed in the small Pavlof Bay, in the southeastern part of the much larger Freshwater Bay, south of the Iyoukeen Peninsula. We walked a short distance up the Pavlof River to a waterfall, just down-river from Pavlof Lake. It is a good place for brown bears because the river is shallow and chum salmon, primarily, spawn up the river and are relatively easy pickin's for the bears. 
A float plan lands in Pavlof Bay. Iyoukeen Peninsula is in the background. This plane was bringing in people from another group.
Judy next to the float plane we came in on. Pavlof Creek is behind Judy and around the bend. 
View of the cockpit in the plane. 
View from the front window on our return trip. It is either Chichagof Island or Admiralty Island below. 
The waterfall we were near on the Pavlof River.
We set up several wooden benches that our guide had stored in some bushes about 80 or 90 yards from the waterfall. We waited about an hour with no sightings other than a few jumping salmon and a bald eagle that flew above us down the river course. Then one of our group spotted a mother brown bear and two 2-year old cubs on the opposite side of the river behind us and for the next hour plus we watched them make their way up the river, eat berries, jump after fish in the river, then settle down at the waterfall where they attempted to catch fish (and actually did once while we watched them). We were joined by a couple of other groups, perhaps another ten in all, before we had to head back to Juneau. 
We were thrilled to see three bears on the opposite side of the river.
This youngster went to a tree for berries.

Then the youngsters started chasing salmon in the shallow river. It is a salmon making the splash in front of this startled bear. 
Mama just sat back and watched her youngsters attempt to catch salmon. She seemed to know that the kids had to try it out on their own - they weren't about to listen to her. 
This youngster unsuccessfully tries to pounce on a salmon.
Mama came out into the river...
...and sat on a rock to watch.
More unsuccessful chasing.
Mama was content to watch.
Eventually the kids joined her. 
They sauntered up to the base of the waterfall.
There again, Mama was just content to watch.
The falls must be nice with those warm coats on a summer day.
Eventually one of the youngsters went into the water and snagged a salmon. 
A scuffle ensued as the youngster's sibling tried to get a piece of the fish. Lots of growling and tussling.
Mama just looked on and did not intervene. 

At one time the bears in this vicinity, sometimes called the ABC Islands bears, were treated as a separate subspecies of brown bear. They have DNA characteristics of polar bears and brown bears. Just within the last few years, scientists from the University of California at Santa Cruz determined that the ABC Islands bears were a result of male brown bears mating with female polar bears that lived on these islands during the last ice age. When things warmed up the ABC Islands bears switched demographically from polar bears to brown bears. These interactions apparently occurred while the changeover was happening. 


  1. This was a "National Geographic Experience." It was so fun to see a mama with cubs, and it was interesting to watch her parenting skills--no helicopter parenting here! I love your photos.

  2. Great pictures! A good peek into how much effort it takes for a bear to feed itself.

  3. Great post and thanks for sharing. To see and enjoy these adventures then plan alaska bear viewing trips