The brown bears of Kodiak Island off the southern coast of Alaska are among the largest land carnivores on Earth. Scientifically identified as Ursus arctos middendorffi, these bears are a subspecies of what is commonly known as grizzly bears. But unlike their cousins found in areas like central Alaska, British Columbia, Alberta, Montana, and Idaho, a diet rich in fish protein allows them to attain their large sizes. Large males can tip the scales at 1400 pounds (635 kg), and large females can reach 800 pounds (360 kg). By comparison, the average mainland grizzly is only about half as large as their Kodiak counterpart with large females reaching 440 pounds (200 kg), and large males reaching 790 pounds (360 kg).
Female Kodiak brown bears typically give birth to two or three cubs about once every four years. While mating occurs in May and June, once the fertilized egg divides a few times it goes into a state of suspended animation until the fall when it implants on the wall of the uterus and begins to grow again. Cubs will be born in January and February while in the winter den. Weighing less than a pound (<450 g), cubs are totally helpless and depend on the mother for all of their needs. But when they finally emerge from the den in May and June, cubs will have grown to weigh between 15 and 20 pounds (7-9 kg).
Most cubs stay with their mothers for about 3 years, but up to half will die before reaching that age. A major source of mortality for cubs is cannibalism by mature males. This makes mother Kodiak bears very protective and watchful when moving about the island with cubs.
In this week's photo, a mother Kodiak brown bear has brought her two older cubs to Dog Salmon Creek, the outlet of Frazer Lake, to catch salmon for herself and her cubs. We watched the mother wade into the stream to catch salmon while her timid cubs watched from the shore. After she brought one or two salmon to the bank, the bolder of the two cubs actually waded into the creek to try its paw at catching something. While largely unsuccessful, it did eventually find a dead fish washed up on a sand bar that it quickly brought back to dry land. After retreating to higher ground away from the stream, the mother and two cubs began dining on their catch.
This photo was taken with a Canon EF100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6L lens zoomed to 400mm on a Canon EOS 10D. The exposure was set to 1/350 sec at f/6.7 and ISO 200.
Visit www.chuckkopczakphotography.com to read more blogs or see more of my photos.