Brown Bear Stories (Part One)

Brown Bear Cub

The salmon run congregates bears closer together and in higher numbers than they would otherwise tolerate.  Like Big Brother on television, this creates drama.

Family Drama

When a sow with cubs begins fishing, the hungry cubs watch with rapt attention. Once she catches a salmon and brings it to shore to feast, the cubs cautiously approach.  They won’t run in or overtly take her food without permission. 

Brown Bear Stories
She’s covering as much of her first catch as she can

They will hover, groaning and begging and trying to sneak a piece from her with a slyly outstretched paw.

Hi Karl, Here is a folder for your images. Let me know if you have questions. Sheila
Please! Mom!
Brown Bear Stories
Sharing with the begging kids

She can eat a whole ten to twelve-pound fish in less than two minutes.  The first fish, she won’t finish. She’ll eat the eggs first if it’s a female, and the tail first if it’s a male (probably to prevent escape), a few more bites and then leave the rest for her kids.  Brown Bear CubThey will spend the rest of the morning with their fish pieces, so their mom will fully consume the next few that she catches.

The cubs, predictably, fight over the fish. Brown Bear Cub The one who got to it first chews at the tough skin, her jaws not strong enough to pierce into the flesh by the mouthful.  She tears at it piece by piece, flake by flake. Her brother sits a foot away. His growls can be heard all along the coast. He waits and wails.  She periodically runs off with him in hot pursuit.

These two adorable fluff balls, padding across the wet sand, splashing through the shallows, the one in the lead with her oversized fish turning to see if her brother is still following…or to make sure he’s still following, I’m not sure.

It’s as much a game as it is a real pursuit.  They don’t run very far before she stops to tear at the fish again, and the scene repeats.  Brown Bear StoriesJust like with their mom and her catch, the Have-not doesn’t actively try to take the fish.  He sits close, whining, growling, and carrying on until a scrap is left behind. 

In my cabin at night, I can hear these sounds and smile, knowing that there are siblings fighting and playing after another successful catch.Brown Bear Stories

Respect the Hierarchy

The bear dubbed Ol’ Sow rules this beach.  She’s been around for many seasons and is very tolerant of bear viewers and photographers. The other bears here give her a wide berth. She’s earned that respect.  

Today, another sow, Crimp Ear, with two spring cubs of her own caught a salmon that she had chased downstream. 

Brown Bear Stories
Crimp Ear with her catch

Between Crimp Ear and her hungry cubs sat Ol’Sow. 

Brown Bear Cubs
Crimp Ears cubs anxiously awaiting the fish.

Instead of arcing around to the far shore giving Ol’ Sow ample space, she walked right past where Ol’ Sow sat on the beach. To be fair, Ol’ Sow was no longer actively fishing. She’d had her fill, having eaten four whole salmon already.  Ol’ Sow, in her wise strategic ways, waited for the bear to pass her and then pounced—the surprise attack. Brown Bear StoriesThe bears reared up on their hind legs roaring and growling, spit flying.

The salmon fell to the wet sand, flopping into the air repeatedly in a desperate attempt to find water.

Ol’ Sow grabbed Crimp Ear hard by the neck, and in one smooth, powerful, swift motion, pinned her to the ground.

The blood seen in the bear’s mouth belongs to the bear beneath her.

This was not the posturing of a heated argument. This was physical. Serious. 

Point made, Ol’ Sow got up, picked up the salmon, and buried it in the sand to eat later. She wasn’t hungry.  It was the principle.

Cub Antics and Getting Lost

While mama bear is intently focused on fishing and survival, her curious, energetic cubs are all about entertaining themselves.  Their favorite past-times are wrestling,

chasing one another,Brown Bear Stories shooing gulls into the air, playing with rocks,

and carrying around remnant fish parts.

Sometimes in their play, the cubs will wander dangerously far away.  Alternatively, sometimes mom doesn’t keep a close eye on them, and they get left behind.  You know what it’s like; you’re tired of telling your kids to pay attention and keep up, so you let them learn a lesson.

The cubs’ mom is the bear on the far right on the other side of the river.

One evening, Ol’ Sow came over the dune, from where she’d been hanging out at the curve in the river, without her cubs. She sat along the river mouth, waiting for the salmon to run. She’s an experienced mom, so this behavior isn’t surprising.  A while later, a young adult bear crested the dune heading toward the surf.  Ol’ Sow’s two cubs followed, lagging behind, wrestling and rolling as they made their way to the shore.  The young bear walked out into the surf to fish. The cubs were catching up to her.  They had unknowingly passed by their mom, blinded by the noise of the wind and crashing waves, her scent carried off in the opposite direction, in their pursuit of this strange bear.  Ol’ Sow saw them pass on the opposite shore and called to them, a quiet jaw pop and guttural sound that they could not hear.

As the cubs approached the misidentified young sow, she turned and shooed them away.  Confused, they approached again.

Not their mother

The bear turned abruptly in a mock charge. At that moment, they knew they were lost. 

Lost, huddled together in the surf

I could see their fear.  They started calling for their mom.  At the same time, their mom was walking out to retrieve them.

Brown Bear Stories
Running away from mom

She’s calling more forcefully now into the wind that carries her voice behind her.  The cubs see her coming, don’t recognize her, and begin running away.  Out to sea.  The crashing tide is coming in. Sandbars are disappearing before my eyes.  Ol’ Sow starts trotting after them, which is pushing them further out. 

It’s a tense few moments before one of the cubs finally recognizes her mom. They touch noses in greeting. The other cub still isn’t convinced this is mom.

Brown Bear Stories
One cub is behind mom, mostly obscured by her. The other cub isn’t convinced yet. Noticed how much water they are in here versus the previous picture.

He doesn’t feel safe; he’s keeping his distance, standing up on his little hind legs, trying to make sense of the situation.  Mom calls to him again.  He cautiously approaches until I can see the look of recognition and relief wash over his face.  His whole body relaxes in the reunion. 

The bear family pushes back through the surf to the beach where mama bear resumes fishing, and after a rest, the cubs begin anew with their antics running and wrestling across the sand.

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