This bear argument is loud, powerful, and impassioned, yet fairly benign. All social species require a way to resolve conflict without risking their lives or their relationships. Just because you have power does not mean you need to use it. Nature has so much to teach us about living our best lives. Slow down and watch with curiosity, not fear.
Low tide reveals an astonishing expanse of beach along the Cook Inlet in Alaska, an area that sees the second most extreme tides in the world. Twice daily, bears go clamming on this exposed seafloor. They are after razor clams, a meaty mollusk that digs down into the sand at a remarkable rate of an inch per second. Bears smell them. People see the tiny holes they leave in the sand. Everybody loves them.
On this morning, two sows each with two spring cubs were clamming peacefully in the same area. Females are much more tolerant of each other than males. Their cubs, however, were stirring up trouble. Taunting, teasing, and even inviting chase just like dogs do. The sows mostly ignored these antics and went about eating clam after clam.
A cub got too close to the other family. The other sow reacted to shoo her away. The mother of the instigator took issue with the reprimand, and a discussion ensued.
The aggrieved sow tensed and, in the release of her muscles, lunged forward galloping over the wet sand. She was there in an instant. The other sow turned to meet her head-on. They roared in the face of one another in that familiar deep rumble all of the movies use to depict bears. (In reality, most bear vocal communication is hushed huffs and brief jaw pops).
They stood on their back feet, pawing at one another like this for more than 30 seconds. That might not seem long, but for the participants, its an eternity. When the aggressor had made her point, it was over. They fell back onto all fours and quietly padded off to continue their meals.
This is the equivalent of a verbal argument in human communication. Although at first glance, it looks like a brawl, no real blows were thrown, and no harm was done. A point was made, “Hassle my kids, and there will be real trouble” and seemed to be well-received. They spent the rest of the morning filling their bellies a half a pound at a time on the same expanse of the coast. Meanwhile, the cubs continued their mischief…just further away from the adults.
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