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Kodiak Bear (Ursus arctos middendorfi)

Text by Robin Barefield
Photos by Mike Munsey

Table of Contents


Is a Kodiak bear different from a grizzly bear or an Alaskan brown bear?  This is a good question and its answer may vary depending on which expert you ask.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a subspecies as “a biological population of a particular geographic region genetically distinguishable from other populations of the same species.”  As you can see, this is a subjective definition that is not easy to scientifically measure.  Biologists can and do measure genetic diversity between populations, but how much diversity is significant enough to declare a population a separate subspecies?  Before the advent of genetic testing, the subspecies classification was based on physical differences between the individuals of two different populations.  In 1918, C. Hart Merriam divided the North American brown and grizzly bears into eighty-six subspecies (Troyer, 2005), basing these classifications on small physical differences.  Today, all North American and Eurasian brown and grizzly bears are grouped into one species, Ursus arctos.  The bears of the Kodiak Archipelago are further subdivided into the subspecies, Ursus arctos middendorfi, and all other brown and grizzly bears are included in the subspecies Ursus arctos horribilis.  Recent research has questioned whether or not Kodiak bears differ enough genetically from other brown bears to warrant a separate subspecies classification (Talbot and Shields, 1996; Patekau et al., 1998; Paetkau et al., 1998).  Since taxonomy is not an exact science, taxonomic classifications often change, but at the present time, the Kodiak bear is considered a separate, distinct subspecies of brown bear.

Kodiak brown bears exist only on the islands of the Kodiak Archipelago.  The archipelago is located in the western Gulf of Alaska, approximately 250 miles (408 km) southwest of Anchorage.  The island group is 177 miles (283.2 km) long and 67 miles (107.2 km) wide at its widest point.  Kodiak, the most prominent island in the group, has a land mass of 3,588 square miles (8,975 km²) and is the second largest island in the United States.

The Kodiak Archipelago is home to over 3500 Kodiak brown bears.  In 2005, the brown bear density on the island was estimated at 0.7 bears/square mile (271.2 bears/1000 km²) (Van Daele, 2007), making it one of the densest brown bear populations in the world.  This density estimate is a bit misleading , however,since bears are not evenly distributed across the archipelago.  In the spring, summer, and fall, the bear density is much greater along the coast and along salmon streams, while there are fewer bears in alpine regions.  During the past decade, the Kodiak bear population has been slowly increasing.  Recent genetic research has shown that while Kodiak brown bears are closely related to Alaska Peninsula brown bears and to brown bears in Kamchatka, Russia, Kodiak bears have been isolated since ice sheets receded at the end of the Pleistocene epoch 10,000 to 12,000 years ago (Talbot et al., 2006).

The brown bear is characterized by its dished-in face, short, round ears, high brow, and distinctive hump between its shoulders.  The hump is actually a mass of muscles, which together with its long claws, make the brown bear very effective at digging (Brown, 1993).  One of the original reasons for classifying Kodiak bears as a separate subspecies was not only due to their large size but also because of their broad skulls.  The skull is the last skeletal part of a bear to stop growing.  Females (or sows) reach a maximum skull size at eight years, while a male’s (or boar’s) skull grows until he is ten to twelve years old (Troyer, 2005).  Biologists take skull measurements with a large set of calipers, and the skull size is determined by adding the length of the skull to the width of the skull.  A skull that is 15 inches(38.1 cm) long and 9 inches (22.0 cm) wide is a 24 inch (60.1 cm) skull. Because skull size usually represents the physical size of the animal, and skull size is a definitive measurement (hides can be stretched), hunting-record books use skull size to rate the trophy value of a bear. The world record skull is from a Kodiak bear, and it measures 30.75 inches (78.1 cm). According to the Boone and Crockett Club record book, seventeen of the twenty largest brown bear skulls taken by hunters have come from Kodiak bears (Nesbitt and Renau, 1988). .                                                           


One of the main reasons Kodiak bears grow so much larger than inland grizzly bears is due to the abundance of food on Kodiak.  Not only can bears feast on protein-rich salmon in the summer, but the archipelago is loaded with nutritious vegetation and sugar-packed berries.  A brown bear’s jaws have powerful muscles and grinding, crunching teeth.  Watch this video by Barb Gilligan and listen to those jaw muscles and teeth in action as this bear easily rips the skin off of a salmon and crushes and snaps its bones. Think how much power it takes to do that.

A brown bear has large teeth that have evolved to adapt to an omnivorous diet of both plants and animals.  Kodiak bears are opportunistic feeders that eat roots, berries, grasses, sedges, wild flowers, wild celery and other plants as well as rodents, insects, large mammals (including deer and mountain goats), fish, carrion, and yes, unfortunately, garbage and pet food.
Bears’ stomachs contract during hibernation, and when they first leave their dens their appetites are suppressed (Troyer, 2005).  They eat very little at first, concentrating on emerging plants and their roots.  As the spring progresses, bears can be seen feeding in grassy meadows and look much like grazing cattle.  Their diet switches to salmon in the summer months when they chase and catch the fish in shallow streams or on the tidal flats near the heads of the deep, narrow bays on Kodiak. 
They also consume dead salmon that have washed up on shore or that they dig from the bottom of the stream bed.  When the salmonberries, elderberries, crowberries, blueberries and other berries begin to ripen in late July and August, most bears spend at least part of their day in berry thickets, pulling the berries from the bushes with their lips and mouths (Troyer, 2005).  Salmon provide bears with fat and protein, and berries are high in natural sugars, all of which are important for building up a fat reserve for hibernation.  As fall progresses, the bears increase their consumption of salmon and berries as they strive to build up their fat layer before entering the den for hibernation.  A diet rich in berries has its downside, though.  Bears are one of the few wild animals susceptible to tooth decay.  Abscessed teeth are not uncommon, and they may effect the bear’s ability to eat and may even lead to starvation (Brown, 1993).

One of the most enjoyable aspects of bear viewing is watching a bear chase and catch a salmon.  Sows teach their cubs how to fish and will often corral the salmon toward the cub in shallow water and then encourage the cub to chase the fish.  A sow with newborn cubs that are still nursing will only allow her cubs to eat a small part of her catch after she has had her fill, because she needs the extra protein to provide milk to nurse her cubs, and the cubs are receiving most of their nutrition from her.  As the cubs age, they nurse less and less, and the sow shares more of her catch with them.  Finally, when they are old enough, she encourages them to fish on their own, and by the time the cubs are two years old, they can usually chase and catch a few salmon without the help of their mother.

Fishing is a skill bears learn with much practice over time, and young bears are often clumsy fishermen.  A sub-adult bear may gallop back and forth in a stream for thirty minutes without successfully landing a salmon, while an older bear will walk slowly downstream and pounce on a passing salmon with apparently little effort.  A bear may also develop his own unique fishing technique.  One bear may sit on a fallen log hanging low over a stream and attempt to grab fish as they swim past.  A second bear, such as the one in the photo at right, may “submarine” by dunking his head under water to watch for fish, and a third may obtain his fish by chasing another bear and stealing his catch.

Can you tell which of the two bears in the following video is the more experienced at catching salmon?


A bear’s sense of smell is its most important sense.  A brown bear’s sense of smell is three to four times more sensitive than that of an average dog (Van Daele, personal communication), and it is difficult for humans with our relatively poor sense of smell to comprehend what this means and how much a bear depends on this sense.  A bear uses his nose to find food, locate a mate, and avoid danger.  A bear downwind from you may smell your presence and run from you while you are still several hundred yards away from him.

A bear’s second most important sense is hearing.  Brown bears have relatively small ears, but they are able to detect noises at a great distance.  A bear can hear the click of a camera shutter over the sound of wind, crashing waves, or a swiftly moving river.

For a long time, it was believed that bears had poor eyesight, but scientific research has shown that a bear’s eyesight is similar to that of a human’s.  They are not nearsighted as was once believed, and they can see colors (Breiter, 2009).   Brown bears often stand on their hind legs to increase their sight distance and get a better look at an object.  This is not an aggressive posture;  the bear is just trying to gain more sensory input.

The important thing to remember is that a bear does not use each one of these senses independent of the others.  If he sees something unfamiliar in the distance, such as a person, a boat, or even another bear, he may stand on his hind legs to get a better look, raise his nose to attempt to smell the interloper, and pick up his ears to try to ascertain unfamiliar sounds.  If he still cannot determine what the object is, he may approach it for a closer look or circle around downwind from the object so that he can smell it better.


A Kodiak bear’s coat may range from dark brown to nearly blonde.  Bears are typically darker in the fall when they begin growing their winter coat, and older bears are often darker than younger bears, but these are just generalizations.  One cub from a litter may be light, while his brother is dark brown.

Cubs often have a natal collar, a white band around the neck and shoulder.  Some cubs (such as the one in the right-hand photo) have no natal collar, and others (like the cub in the left-hand photo) have a collar that is bright and distinct.  This band gradually fades over time, and it has usually disappeared by the age of three, but occasionally, you will see a four-or-five-year-old bear that still has remnants of a collar.
A bear’s fur is an excellent insulator.  It is dense and oily, keeping him warm and preventing water from penetrating (Brown, 1993).  The fur consists of two types of hair, the “guard hair” and the “under fur”.  Bears shed both the guard hair and under fur annually, and in the summer, they often appear shaggy and matted.  The bear to the left looks as if she is sporting dreadlocks.  To help remove their fur, bears rub against trees and rocks, often standing on their hind legs, backing up to a tree and rubbing up and down.  It is humorous to watch a bear “scratch his back” in this manner.  While the old coat is shedding, a new coat is growing, and by September on Kodiak, most bears appear darker in color and well-groomed.  The old, loose fur is gone, and only the new fur remains. The bear on the right was photographed in mid September.


Brown bears have non-retractable claws that may be as long as four inches (Troyer, 2005).  The claws of young bears are typically dark brown and then lighten with age.  Although some young bears have light-colored claws, beautiful, pearly-white claws are usually seen on an old sow or boar.  Look at these photos and notice the difference in claw coloration between the old sow on the left and the sub-adult bear to the right.

Brown bears use their claws to defend themselves and fight with other bears, but Kodiak bears primarily use their claws to dig for roots and other food and to grip food.  Even though their claws look large and clumsy to us, they are actually quite dexterous and capable of manipulating small objects (Brown, 1993).

Bear cubs use their claws to climb trees, but adult brown bears are poor climbers due to their body weight and the structure of their claws (Brown, 1993).  It is not uncommon to see a sow send her small cubs up a tree if she senses danger, and they stay in the tree until she vocalizes the signal that it’s safe for them to come down.


Brown bears have a shuffling, lumbering walk.  They are flat-footed and pigeon-toed, and they walk with both legs on one side moving together. Their paws strike the ground in the following sequence: Right forepaw then left hind paw then the left forepaw followed by the right hind paw (Brown, 1993).  When walking at a fast pace, the hind paw is often placed well in front of the forepaw track.

Brown bears can run very fast over a short distance and have been clocked at 35 to 40mph. (56 to 65 kph) (Brown, 1993). Even over a long distance, they can quickly cover a great deal of ground and climb steep banks with ease. 

They are also excellent swimmers and often swim for a mile or two to cross a bay or lake.  A brown bear swims with his body below water and his head and nose only slightly above the waterline.  While bears are strong swimmers, they seem ill-at-ease and vulnerable when swimming, and when approached closely by a boat, a bear may give up his plan to swim across the bay and return to the shore he just left, even if he is closer to the opposite shore. On sunny summer days, it is common to see bears lying or splashing in the water to cool themselves, and some bears will even dive underwater to catch salmon (Troyer, 2005).


Brown bears are not considered territorial, but they do have home ranges.  A home range is the geographical area a bear inhabits over the course of a year (Troyer, 2005).  The ranges of separate bears overlap and vary in size depending on several factors.  The ranges tend to be smaller in regions with abundant food supply and where the food supply is near the denning habitat.  Kodiak bears have smaller home ranges than most other brown bear populations in North America because of the abundant food supply on the island (McLoughlin et al., 2000).  Males tend to have larger home ranges than females, and home ranges may increase in the fall when there is less food available and bears are attempting to build their fat reserves for the winter (Brown, 1993).  Home ranges of females on Kodiak average 50 sq. mi. (130 km²), while the ranges of males average 97 sq. mi.(250 km²) (Van Daele, 2007).

There have been several scientific studies conducted on Kodiak to understand home ranges and the movements of bears relative to salmon runs and food sources (Clark, 1957; Troyer and Hensel, 1964a; Gard, 1971; Berns et al, 1980; Atwell et al., 1980; Barnes, 1990).  Studies near Karluk Lake show that bears move extensively between different drainages and often time their arrival at a particular stream to exactly coincide with the arrival of the salmon run for that stream.  This would not be so exceptional if the salmon returned at the same time every year, but the runs often vary by several weeks from year to year.

Recent research by Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge biologist William Leacock and his team provided detailed information on the daily movements of radio-collared bears in the Karluk drainage ( ).  During 2010 and 2011, this team fitted eight female bears with GPS collars that broadcast information at one-hour intervals.  This information allowed the researchers to track not only the seasonal movement, but the daily and even hourly movements of these bears and to coordinate their travels in response to food sources and bedding areas.  Some surprising results emerged from this study, and what struck me was how much the movement patterns, home ranges, and bedding habits varied from sow to sow.  This study as well as any points out that bears, like humans, are individuals, and one bear may have a different behavior pattern from another bear.        


To understand a bear's strength, you only need to observe one running effortlessly up a steep slope, quickly digging a den out of the side of a mountain, or easily flipping huge boulders weighing several hundred pounds.  Kodiak bears are powerfully built with a heavy skeleton and a thick layer of muscles.  The hump on their backs is a mass of muscles that aid in their ability to dig and provide a powerful striking force with their fore paws ((Brown, 1993).


A bear’s body temperature is similar to that of a human’s and ranges between ninety-eight to ninety-nine degrees Fahrenheit (36.7 - 37.2C).  (Brown, 1993).  Bears do not have sweat glands, though, and that coupled with their insulating fur can make staying cool on a hot, sunny day a challenge.  Bears employ a variety of techniques to solve this problem, including resting in the shade, stretching out on their bellies on the cool ground, panting like a dog, sitting or lying in a cold stream or the ocean, sprawling on snow patches, and shaking off water when they emerge from a stream.  They are able to dissipate heat through their paws, which are well supplied with blood vessels and through areas with minimal fur such as the face, ears, nose, belly and the insides of the legs.  This is why you sometimes see bears lounging on the ground with their legs spread wide (Brown, 1993).


Bears suffer from many of the same ailments that effect other mammals, including arthritis.  Traumatic injuries can be very devastating, especially if the injuries effect the bear’s ability to procure food or protect himself.  Poor teeth can directly impact a bear’s ability to eat, and any factor that leads to inadequate fat reserves before hibernation can result in starvation.

Bears are susceptible to a variety of diseases and parasites.  Internal parasites include the trichinella worm (trichinosis), trematodes, nematodes, lung worms, hook worms, flukes, blood parasites, intestinal worms, and tapeworms (Brown, 1993).  Tapeworms are especially prevalent in Kodiak bears, since they eat large quantities of raw fish.  It is not uncommon to see a bear in the summer months with a several-foot-long tape worm trailing from his anus. Note the tape worm in the photo.

Bears can also suffer from many of the same ailments that affect other mammals, including arthritis. Traumatic injuries can be very devastating, especially if the injuries affect the bear's ability to procure food or protect himself. Poor teeth can directly impact a bear's abilaity to eat, and any factor that leads to inadequate fat reserves before hibernation can result in starvation.


Bears hibernate in the winter to conserve energy when weather conditions are harsh and food is scarce.  While hibernating bears experience a degree of dormancy, it is nowhere near as extreme as it is in many other species such as bats, squirrels, and rodents.  On Kodiak where winters are relatively mild, bears often go into and out of hibernation and some bears (mostly boars) do not hibernate at all.  It is common to see bear tracks in the snow all winter on Kodiak.

Bears typically enter their dens in the order of pregnant females followed by lone females and females with cubs.  Males are the last to enter their dens, and large, old boars in particular may not hibernate at all (Troyer, 2005).  A study on denning behavior on Kodiak determined that during the study period, pregnant sows on the northern end of the island entered their dens around November 5th, but pregnant females in the southwestern region of the island did not begin denning until November 19th (Van Daele et al., 1990).  Denning conditions vary from year to year depending on the weather conditions and the availability of food (Troyer, 2005).

The time of den emergence in the spring is also dependent upon temperature and weather conditions and varies by sex and age.  Males typically leave their dens first, followed by single females and then sows with cubs.  Sows with newborn cubs are the last to emerge    Males usually spend three to five months in hibernation, while pregnant females may hibernate as long as seven months (Troyer, 2005).

While there is an instinctual aspect to denning, it also appears to be a learned behavior that sows teach their cubs.  Perhaps the most important information the mother bear relays to her cubs is how to choose a den site.  On Kodiak, there are few natural rock caves, so bears must dig their dens into the sides of the mountains or into the sides of snow banks.  Lawrence Van Daele, Victor Barnes Jr. and Roger Smith studied and compared differences in denning behavior on the northern part of the island to that on southwestern Kodiak (VanDaele et al, 1990).  On the northern portion of Kodiak where the mountains are taller, they determined that the bears in their study group denned at an average elevation of 2180 ft. (665m).  The bears in this region preferred steep slopes in alpine habitat for their dens, probably because the dens were high enough that the soil remained frozen throughout the winter, and the den structure remained stable.  On southwestern Kodiak Island with its gentler topography, bears denned at an average elevation of 1499 ft. (457 m) and preferred mid slope habitats near alder thickets.  The researchers believe that the alder roots help stabilize these dens that were dug in loose, unfrozen soil.  It is important that a bear chooses an area for his den that will remain stable throughout the winter and won’t collapse. Dens often do collapse in the spring and summer after the bears have emerged, and the bears are forced to dig new dens the following fall (Troyer, 2005).

Before a bear digs and enters his den, he eats a large amount of food to build his fat layer.  Berries, such as the elderberries in the photo at right, provide natural sugars, and a bear may gain as much as 20,000 calories per day from eating berries in the late summer and fall.  Bears also drink large quantities of water and consume foods high in protein, such as salmon.  Brown bears add six to eight inches (15.24 to 20.32 cm) of fat prior to hibernation.  They stop eating shortly before they enter their dens (Brown, 1993).

During hibernation, bears do not eat, drink, urinate, or defecate.  They curl up to conserve heat, but they may change position in the den.  They are sensitive to their surroundings, and they may awaken and move about or even temporarily leave the den. Pregnant sows give birth while in hibernation, and they are able to lactate to nurse their cubs.  They can also lick and groom their cubs (Brown, 1993).

While in hibernation, a brown bear’s breathing drops from 6 to 10 breaths per minute to one breath every 45 seconds.  His heart rate drops from forty to fifty beats per minute to nineteen beats per minute, but his body temperature decreases only a few degrees and does not drop below 88° F (31°C), which is within 12°F (6°C) of his normal body temperature (Bagget, 1984).  Some scientists consider bears to be “super hibernators”.  Because they have thick fur and a lower surface area to mass ratio than smaller hibernators such as rodents, bears lose body heat slowly, which allows them to cut their metabolic rate by 50-60% (Rogers, 1981).  Physiologist Øivind Tøien at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has discovered that while a hibernating black bear’s body temperature only drops an average of 9.9° F (5.5° C), the bear’s metabolism plunges to 25% of the average summer rate.  Furthermore, his studies indicate that when a black bear comes out of hibernation in the spring, it takes several weeks for the bear’s metabolism to return to normal (Reardon, 2011).

The amazing physiological adaptations of bears during hibernation are of much interest to human medical researchers.  If a human must endure prolonged bed rest due to paralysis or illness, or if a broken limb is immobilized, or if an astronaut spends several months in space, the human body faces such risks as blood clots, heart failure, a significant loss of muscle mass, a breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, as well as life-threatening bed sores.  A hibernating bear has none of these risks, including no loss of muscle function.  Scientists are interested in determining what specific changes in metabolites, proteins, and hormones allow bears these amazing physiological adaptations during several months of inactivity.  Humans, as well as all other mammals who maintain non-weight-bearing positions for an extend period of time suffer from osteoporosis (Wickelgren, 1988), but bears do not lose bone mass during hibernation.  When the secret to how bears accomplish this feat is discovered, it may help people with weak bones, patients who become bedridden for a prolonged period of time, people who suffer paralysis, and astronauts on long space missions.

While bears are hibernating and metabolizing body fat, their cholesterol levels are twice as high as respective cholesterol levels in humans (Baggett, 1984).  Bears, however, do not suffer from arteriosclerosis or gallstones, conditions that plague humans with high cholesterol.  Furthermore, a bear’s liver secretes a substance that dissolves gallstones in humans.  Insight into how bears recycle urea during hibernation could lead to advances in treatments for kidney failure and dialysis in humans. It is also interesting that bears gain a great deal of weight in the fall before going into himbernation, but unlike many obese humans, they remain insulin-sensitive. Conversely, they become insulin-resistant once they are in hibernation so their fat won't break down too quickly, but once they wake in the spring, they once again respond to insulin. In other words, bears are able to put themselves into a diabetic state while hibernating and then reverse out of it in the spring. Understanding how bears accomplish this feat could lead to breakthrough medical advances in the treatment of diabetes and obesity in humans(Corbit, 2014).

Bears emerge slowly from their dens in the spring.  A bear may go in and out of his den many times over the course of several days before leaving his den for good.  This is especially true of sows with newborn cubs who may stay near the den for one to two weeks, slowly allowing the small cubs to adapt to the outside world (Troyer, 2005).  Upon emergence, bears are groggy and sluggish, and it takes time for their bodily functions to return to normal.  Soon after leaving the den, a bear will pass a fecal plug that may be as much as two feet (61 cm) in length.  This plug consists of digested food that has accumulated in the lower intestine as a result of not defecating all winter (Troyer, 2005).  After leaving the den, bears drink large quantities of water and slowly begin to eat new plant shoots.


Kodiak bears are sexually mature at age five, but sows often do not successfully produce a litter for a few years after that (  Mating season on Kodiak takes place from mid-May to mid-July, but it is most active during June (Troyer, 2005).  Brown bears are considered serially monogamous.  A female may stay with a male for several days or weeks, mating many times, and once he leaves, she will be pursued by her next suitor.  Over the course of the mating season, she will have several sexual partners.  Sometimes a male chases away a sow’s present mate, and then she will mate with the newcomer, or the two bears may fight, especially if they are roughly the same size, and the sow will mate with the victor.  The mating pair often stays together while sleeping or eating.  As foreplay, they sometimes rub, cuff, or even bite each other, and the female may refuse to let the male breed with her for several days after he first begins to pursue her.  The breeding process itself may last for forty-five minutes or longer, with the male taking breaks and sometimes falling asleep during the process (Troyer, 2005).

Ovulation in mammals is either spontaneous as it is in humans or induced by the male, as it is in bears.  Spontaneous ovulation works fine for animals that live in herds or family groups, but bears lead solitary lives often not near other members of their species.  To ensure that the sow has a fertile egg present at the time the male copulates with her, ovulation is induced by mechanical stimulation of the male (Breiter, 2005).  The male brown bear has a penis bone or baculum that stimulates the female to ovulate.  The stimulation requires some time for ovulation to occur, but scientists are not sure exactly how much time is required.  It is fairly certain, though, that short mating sessions are usually not successful.  Each ovulation produces only one egg, so bear cubs from the same litter are fraternal and not identical, and cubs from the same litter may have different fathers (Breiter, 2005).

The gestation period of all mammals has two stages.  If the male’s sperm fertilizes one or more of the female’s eggs, the fertilized egg divides several times but then stops when it is a spherical sac the size of a pinhead.  This process takes about a week, and the sac is called a blastocyst (Breiter, 2005).  It is impossible for the blastocyst to divide further at this point, because the nourishment provided by the egg has been depleted.  For further growth to take place, the blastocyst must be implanted into the uterus wall, where a placenta will develop which will provide nutrients for the growing fetus.  The blastocyst implants immediately on the uterine wall in many mammals, but in others, implantation is delayed.  In bears, the blastocyst implants in the wall of the uterus after the pregnant female goes into hibernation.  This delayed implantation is advantageous to the female, because her body expends little energy on the developing fetus until the beginning of winter.  If she does not have sufficient fat reserves to sustain herself and her developing embryos, the pregnancy is terminated (Breiter, 2005).

Because of delayed implantation, the length of gestation in bears is variable.  The length of time from when the egg is fertilized by the sperm until the sow gives birth is seven to nine months, but the actual period of fetal development is two-and-one-half months.  Kodiak bears typically give birth to between one to four cubs (  The sow in the photo at right has five cubs, but this is not common.

Since a bear cub fetus only develops for two-and-one-half months, the cubs are very underdeveloped when they are born. No other mammal except marsupials have such immature offspring at birth (Breiter, 2005). Cubs weigh 1/400 to 1/1000 of what they will weigh as adults, so imagine that if the same were true for humans, a grown man might weigh as much as 8000 lbs. The reason why cubs are born at such a premature stage of development is that the mother must provide nutrients for her unborn young while she is in hibernation and not eating. She provides these nutrients by breaking down her own body protein, which causes her to lose muscle mass. If she carried the cubs longer, she would lose too much muscle mass and would not even be able to move by the end of hibernation. While a shorter gestation period produces underdeveloped cubs, the mother maintains enough physical strength to be able to care for her offspring (Breiter, 2005).

Cubs continue to develop once they are born.  At birth, brown bear cubs are nearly helpless.  They are able to detect temperature changes and move closer to their mothers to seek warmth, and they are also able to find the sow’s nipples to nurse.  At birth, the cubs weigh about one pound (.5 kg), and they are blind, deaf, and unable to smell.  They are covered by a fine hair, and they are toothless, weak and uncoordinated (Brown, 1993).  The sow has three pairs of nipples.  She may nurse on her side in the den but normally nurses in a sitting or partially-reclined position after emerging from the den. 

A bear’s milk contains an average of 33% fat, as compared to human milk which contains 3.5% fat.  Bear’s milk consists of 11 to 15% protein and 0.3 to 0.6% carbohydrates (Brown, 1993).  Due to this diet of rich milk, brown bear cubs grow very rapidly.  

A cub’s eyes open about four weeks after birth, and he begins to walk at six weeks.  A Kodiak bear cub’s weight doubles every two months during the first year.  The cubs are completely dependent on nursing for 24 weeks and may continue to nurse for as long as 82 weeks (Brown, 1993).

On Kodiak, most cubs stay with their mothers for three years, and nearly half of all Kodiak bear cubs die before they leave their mothers (Barnes and Van Daele, 2006).  Causes of death range from starvation, accidental separation from their mother, deliberate abandonment by their mother, fights with other bears, accidents, and infanticide, most often but not always by large boars.

It has been proposed that the reason for infanticide, the killing of the young of one’s own species, is so that the male can eliminate the offspring of another male, bring the female into estrus, mate with her, and pass along his own genes to the next generation, but while this may be true for some species, it makes less sense for bears (Breiter, 2005).  To begin with, bears are seasonal breeders in the spring, but boars often kill cubs in the summer when the female cannot go into estrus again.  Even if the cubs are killed during the breeding season, the male would have to kill all the cubs in a litter, and even then, the female does not become sexually receptive for several weeks.  Therefore, the boar that killed the cubs would probably not be the bear that eventually mates with the mother.  Also, females are sometimes the perpetrators of infanticide (Breiter, 2005).  A friend of mine saw a large male bear walk up to a den, stick his head in the den, pull out a cub, shake it to death, and continue on his way.  It is difficult to coordinate that activity with any biological theory.

By their second summer, yearling cubs weigh approximately 135 lbs ( 61.36 kg)  By the time they are two-and one-half years old, the males begin to outgrow the females (Troyer,2005) and weights may vary greatly.  Females average 212 lbs. (96.36 kg) And males average 225 lbs. (102.27 kg).  Females reach their full adult size at approximately five years when they may weigh between 350 and 500 lbs. (159.09 - 227.27 kg).  Males continue to grow, gaining approximately 100 lbs. (45.45 kg) per year until they are eight to ten years old and weigh 500 to 1000 lbs. (227.27 - 454.54 kg) (Troyer, 2005).

Kodiak bears gain weight and add fat in the summer when food is abundant and then burn off this fat during hibernation.  The largest Kodiak bear on record lived in the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and weighed 1670 lbs. (757 kg).  In the wild, a maximum-size boar might weigh 1200 lbs. (545.45 kg), while 600 lbs. (272.73 kg) would be extremely large for a female (Troyer,2005). The bear in this photo is a very large male.

You don’t have to spend much time watching Kodiak bears to realize they are intelligent animals.  Some researchers consider bears as intelligent as primates (Breiter, 2005) and others believe a bear is as smart as a dog, but intelligence is difficult to measure, and to compare the intelligence of bears to that of other animals is a guessing game.  It is clear that bears learn quickly and remember what they learn, and this can be to the bear’s detriment if he learns to associate food with humans.  Bears are able to adapt quickly to environmental changes or unique situations, and they will remember what they learned from a single situation or experience.

Bears are only able to make a limited range of sounds, and they do not have the necessary muscles for facial expressions (Breiter, 2005).  They can’t curl a lip like dogs do, and their small ears don't allow the expressive maneuvers of cats, but bears do communicate with each other by posturing, attitude, and vocalization.  A sow may send her cubs up a tree with a woofing sound or call them to her side by popping her jaws.  Many of their vocalizations sound similar to human ears, but bears can apparently differentiate the sounds. 
We often hear bears growl while fishing in close proximity to each other, and sows frequently growl at their cubs to reprimand them.  A loud roar is a much more serious vocalization between two bears.  A grunt or a woofing sound often signifies a distressed or upset bear.  These are sounds we often hear when a bear is suddenly surprised by our presence, and these sounds sometimes precede a lunge or a false charge.
Bears communicate with humans just as they do with other bears, and understanding their language or choosing a guide who understands their language is important if you plan to go out into the wilderness in bear country.  Correctly interpreting vocal signals as well as body language and posturing may alert you to back away from a stressed or agitated bear.

Most of the research on Kodiak bears has been done by biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game or the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.  Much of this research has concentrated on denning behavior and home ranges of bears, with an emphasis on management applications.  Today, much of the Kodiak bear research is at least in part supported by the Kodiak Brown Bear Trust, which was established in 1981 to compensate for potential impacts on bears by the construction and operation of the Terror Lake Hydroelectric Project.  The trust funds bear research, management, habitat protection, and educational outreach projects.  The Kodiak Brown Bear Trust relies on tax-deductible contributions to carry out its mission, and if you would like to support Kodiak bear research and habitat protection, please visit to learn more about the trust and how you can donate.

In 1896, C.H. Merriam visited Kodiak and confirmed reports that Kodiak bears were the largest bears in the world.  He named the species in honor of Russian naturalist Dr. A. Th. Von Middendorff (Merriam, 1918).  Merriam divided the North American brown and grizzly bears into eighty-six forms based on slight variations in size, fur color, and skull shape (Troyer, 2005). Scientists now know that physical differences in these categories can occur within populations and even within family groups.  Today, all North American brown bears, grizzlies, and Eurasian brown bears are grouped into the single species Ursus arctos.  Kodiak bears are classified Ursus arctos middendorfi, and all other brown and grizzly bears are listed as Ursus arctos horribilis. 

The first scientific studies of Kodiak bears were simple hunting and collecting trips to document their size (Van Daele, 2007).  In the early 1900's, research was concerned with determining how many cattle and salmon the bears were killing and eating (Van Daele, 2003).  A study by W.K. Clark in 1955 showed that while bears are very effective at catching salmon in a stream, they actually catch few unspawned salmon, making their impact on the salmon run much less than originally believed (Van Daele, 2003).  As the Kodiak bear became a valued trophy for big-game hunters, the focus of the research shifted to learning more about the physiology and behavior patterns of the bears.  Biologists refined techniques for capturing and marking bears (Troyer et al., 1962) and using radio telemetry to track the movements of specific bears (Berns and Hensel, 1972).  This jump in technology provided biologists with information on home ranges, densities, and gender and age ratios (Hensel et al., 1969), as well as litter sizes (Troyer and Hensel, 1964b).

Most of the early research on Kodiak bears was conducted on the south end of Kodiak Island, but in 1982, construction began on the Terror Lake Hydroelectric Project on the north end of the island, and funds were made available to determine what if any effect this project would have on bears in the vicinity of the proposed dam.  Biologists were surprised when studies on the bears near Terror Lake showed that bears in this area displayed different denning behaviors and preferences than did bears on the south end of the island, indicating that Kodiak bears have adapted well to the slightly different habitats on opposite ends of the island (Van Daele, 2007).

In the 1970's, a study investigated Kodiak brown bear use of alpine habitat during the summer months and preferred plant foods of the bears (Atwell et al., 1980), while a study published by Victor Barnes in 1990 examined the influence of salmon availability on the movements of bears (Barnes, 1990).  A 1994 study by Barnes investigated the impact deer hunters have on Kodiak bears (Barnes, 1994), and a 2006 paper by Barnes discussed his study on the impact of bear viewers and photographers at O’Malley River on Kodiak Island (Barnes, 2006).  This study showed that while a regimented bear-viewing program impacted bears less than a non-regimented program, bears were still effected much more by a regimented bear-viewing program than they were when the area was closed to public use.  I think the important lesson to learn from this study is that any time you step into the bears’ habitat, you are impacting them to some degree.

A 1996 genetic study (Talbot and Shields, 1996) questioned whether Kodiak bears should be considered a separate subspecies from other Alaskan brown bears.  A 1998 study on the genetic diversity of North American brown bears showed that the genetic diversity among Kodiak bears in much less than that for other populations of North American brown bears (Paetkau et al., 1998).  In fact, several of the bears sampled on Kodiak had identical genotypes.  Another study by Paetkau and colleagues (Paetkau et al., 1998) further explored the genetic isolation of Kodiak bears from other Alaskan brown bear populations.  A 2006 report (Talbot et al., 2006) for the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge clearly illustrates that Kodiak bears have extremely low levels of genetic variation at neutral nuclear micro satellite markers.  The level of genetic variation is much lower than that found for any other brown bear population.  Furthermore, this low level of variation is not only found at neutral markers but also at nuclear functional genes.  While the Kodiak bear population is presently healthy, this low genetic variability makes this population susceptible to novel parasites and pathogens that may somehow reach Kodiak and infect the bears.

Bear research is ongoing on the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. In addition to yearly intensive aerial surveys which produce population counts and aerial stream surveys to study the number of bears and population profiles of the bears on each stream (the percentage of single bears, sows with newborn cubs, sows with one-year old cubs, etc.), in 2010.William Leacock headed a two-year project near Karluk Lake ( ) on the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge to collar and track several Kodiak bears.  Each bear in the study was fitted with a GPS collar that broadcasted the bear’s location at hourly intervals.  A Refuge pilot with an antenna attached to the wings of his plane flew over the area where the bears were and picked up the GPS signal from the radio collars of each bear being tracked.  A crew member then downloaded these GPS points to a laptop in the plane.  From this information, the researchers were able to study the detailed movements of each bear and record the preferred habitat, food preferences, and bedding choices of each animalOnce the GPS data was collected in the field, volunteers hiked to the exact locations where each bear had been and recorded the types of food plants available in the area as well as other pertinent information.  The ultimate goal of this study was to quantify behavioral responses of Kodiak bears to resources that vary in time and space (such as salmon runs and berry production).  Other studies in the Karluk Lake region are attempting to study the impact of tourists on bears.


According to archaeological evidence, Kodiak Island has been inhabited by humans for the last 7500 years (Dodge, 2004).  The earliest occupants are referred to as the Ocean Bay tradition, and while little is known about the relationship Ocean Bay people had with bears, bear bones have been found in archaeological digs of sites dating from this time period, indicating that they did hunt bears.  Interestingly, though, few bear skulls have been found in excavations of Ocean Bay sites, suggesting that the head may have been left in the field as part of a ceremonial practice or a sign of respect for the animal (Van Daele, 2003).  If the Ocean Bay culture was similar to other early northern cultures, then it is likely that bears were revered and perhaps even viewed as an emissary between man and the spirit world (Dodge, 2004).

The Ocean Bay tradition lasted 4000 years and was replaced by the Kachemak tradition which lasted approximately 3200 years and was gradually replaced, beginning 900 years ago, by Alutiiq (Koniag) society (Dodge, 2004).  As time progressed, the human population on Kodiak grew, and conflicts between humans and bears undoubtedly increased as well.  Excavations at Koniag village sites uncovered a greater number of bear skulls than were found at more ancient sites, indicating that either bears were more heavily hunted or that practices that forbade bringing skulls into the villages had been abandoned (Dodge, 2004).

Russian explorers arrived on Kodiak in the early 1760's, and while the Russians were impressed by the huge bears that inhabited the archipelago, their main interest was harvesting sea otters and shipping the valuable pelts to China.  Bears were also hunted, but a bear hide was only worth two percent as much as a sea otter pelt (Dodge, 2004).  Once the Russians depleted the sea otter population, they more actively sought out other fur-bearing animals including bears, and between 1821 and 1842, an average of 268 bear hides per year were shipped from the Alaska colonies (Van Daele, 2003).  In 1867 the United States purchased Alaska from Russia, and the brown bear harvest increased dramatically with an average of 548 hides shipped per year from 1867 to 1880 (Van Daele, 2003).

Russians brought livestock to Kodiak, and when bears began killing the livestock, especially cattle, the bears were considered a nuisance that needed to be eliminated (Van Daele, 2003).  At nearly the same time, more efficient methods of fishing by commercial fishing operations on the island led to a depletion of the salmon stocks and created greater competition between humans and bears for the fish. The U.S. government never set an officiaal bounty on bears as they did on eagles and Dolly Varden, but bears were routinely shot and some canneries offered private bounties on bears (Van Daele, 2003).

The Boone and Crockett Club, a wildlife conservation organization, was formed in 1887, and one of its goals was to work for the preservation of wild game in the United States.  Thanks to the efforts of the Boone and Crockett Club, the Game and Wild Bird Preservation and Disposition Act, or the Lacey Act, was signed into law in 1900.  This extremely important law provided the first legal protection for wildlife, including the Kodiak bear, in the U.S. (Van Daele, 2003).

When exotic big-game hunters learned about the huge bears on Kodiak Island, many journeyed to Kodiak in pursuit of a trophy, and the Kodiak bear gained the reputation as one of the ultimate trophy animals in the world.  As interest in guided Kodiak bear hunts increased, the Alaska territorial government set strict limits on commercial hunting and the selling of bear hides.  In 1925, the Alaska Game Commission required that any nonresident hunter in Alaska must be accompanied in the field by a registered big-game guide.  In the late 1920's and 1930's, commercial and sport hunting were strictly regulated on Kodiak, while shooting bears to protect cattle was not only encouraged but was government sanctioned (Van Daele, 2003).

On August 19th, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8857, creating the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge which encompassed Uganik Island and most of the southwestern portion of Kodiak Island.  The purpose of the refuge was to preserve the natural feeding and breeding range of the Kodiak bear and other wildlife (

Throughout the 1940's and 1950's, cattle ranchers and those involved in the salmon industry fought for stricter predator-control measures against Kodiak bears, while bear hunters and conservationists from all across America voiced loud opinions against the concept of bear control, alarmed that the Kodiak bear could easily be wiped out in a few years.  After considering all opinions, the Alaska Game Commission in the late 1950's opted against any form of bear control and did not increase the length of the hunting season on Kodiak (Van Daele, 2003).

Policies changed in the 1960's when th Alaska Department of Fish and Game worked with ranchers to pursue and kill bears suspected of killing cattle, going so far as to quietly hire two WWII fighter pilots to shoot bears with a semi-automatic M-1 Garland rifle mounted on a Piper Super Cub aircraft.  A group of irate Kodiak hunting guides informed Outdoor Life, and the magazine ran a sensational cover story titled “The Kodiak Bear War” (Reardon, 1964).  In 1970, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game decided it was not appropriate for the agency to be involved in a predator-control program on brown bears and it ceased its relationship with the ranchers (Van Daele, 2003).

Also in the 1960's, the number of sport-killed bears greatly increased, causing the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge to enact stricter hunting regulations and seasons, and by the mid 1970's a well-regulated permit system was in place. (Van Daele, 2003).

During the 1970's and 1980's, concern and research focused more heavily on Kodiak brown-bear habitat.  The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was signed into law on December 18, 1971.  As a result of ANCSA, local native groups on Kodiak selected as their land nearly the entire coastline of Kodiak, the Karluk River drainage, and several other smaller islands in the archipelago, causing the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge to lose control of 310,000 acres of prime bear habitat (Van Daele, 2003).

In 1979, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission began working on an environmental impact statement for a proposed hydroelectric project and dam at Terror Lake on the north end of Kodiak Island.  There was great concern among the public and various agencies that the project would disturb bear denning and feeding areas, and finally, a settlement was reached in 1981, providing funds to support research on project impacts on salmon, mountain goats, and bears.  This agreement established The Brown Bear Trust, which is still a great source of funds for brown bear research and habitat protection.  Research indicated that the hydroelectric project had few long-term negative impacts on bears, and the research the project supported was highly beneficial (Van Daele, 2003).

 On March 24th, 1989, the Exxon Valdez spilled eleven million gallons of crude oil in Prince William Sound.  As the oil spread, ocean currents carried it to Kodiak, killing sea birds, eagles, sea otters, harbor seals, and killer whales.  Oil washed up on the beaches causing habitat destruction and resulting in reduced salmon runs in the following years (Van Daele 2003).  I have read several articles stating that no bears were directly killed by eating oiled birds or animal carcasses, but I believe this statement is inaccurate.  I personally saw two dead bears on remote beaches during the summer of 1989, and while no necropsy was performed on either animal, it is highly unusual to see a dead bear on the beach, and I think it is likely the cause of the deaths of these two bears was directly linked to the contaminated beaches and the oiled bird and animal carcasses that drifted onto those beaches.  Furthermore, if I saw two dead bears, it is not only possible but likely there were more.  The vegetation on Kodiak is very dense in the summer, so it would be difficult to spot a sick bear that wandered into the brush and died..  One positive development that came from the oil spill was that much of the money from the Exxon Valdez Settlement Fund was used to buy back Refuge lands and critical bear habitat that had been lost due to ANCSA.
In the early 1980's, the Sitka black-tailed deer population exploded throughout the Kodiak Archipelago.  As a result, the length of the deer hunting season as well as the bag limit for deer increased.  For several years, each hunter was allowed to shoot seven deer.  Bears quickly adapted to this new, fairly easy source of food, and conflicts between bears and deer hunters increased in frequency.  A questionnaire filled out by hunters indicated that 21% of all deer hunters had threatening encounters with bears, and as many as 26% lost deer meat to bears (Barnes, 1994).  A heightened emphasis on hunter education and on ways to avoid bear encounters has helped this problem somewhat.  Today the bag limit is three deer per hunter, but bear/deer-hunter encounters still occur.
While not yet as large a problem, the mountain goat population on Kodiak has also greatly increased within the last decade, and in many areas, permits for hunting mountain goats have gone from a restricted drawing to an open registration.  There have been several goat-hunter/bear conflicts in the last few years, but goat habitat is difficult to reach, so there are fewer goat hunters than deer hunters and therefore fewer goat-hunter/bear conflicts than deer-hunter/bear conflicts.
The interest in bear viewing and photography has steadily increased on Kodiak since the 1980's.  The Refuge classifies bear viewing as “non-consumptive” use as opposed to “consumptive” use by bear hunters, but "non-consumptive" is a misleading term.  Bear viewers can be very disruptive to bears and their habitat, and the impact or potential impact of bear viewers is not easy to measure or predict.  The challenge the Refuge has faced in recent years is how to limit the impact of non-consumptive users on bears while allowing as many people as possible the thrill of watching a Kodiak bear in its natural habitat. For more information on bear viewing on Kodiak Island visit Bear Viewing with Munsey's Bear Camp

Wildlife management most often involves managing humans.  Research allows biologists to understand the needs and habits of wildlife, and this research hopefully leads to management policies that enable human populations to better coexist with wildlife.  Wildlife management is never easy, and Kodiak is no different from anywhere else.  Various user groups attempt to pressure wildlife managers to make decisions to further their particular interest, and managers struggle for a balance to try to accommodate a variety of users while protecting the wildlife and the habitat.  On the Kodiak Archipelago, I am proud to say that management of bears and their habitat is not only done well, but it is done so well that it is considered one of the best models of wildlife management in the world.  The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge managers, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the native corporations, and the citizens of Kodiak work well together to safeguard the bears and protect their habitat.

History has shown us that protecting wildlife habitat is often the most difficult aspect of wildlife management, whether there is oil to be drilled, copper to be mined, trees to be cut, or roads and houses to be built, economics often wins while wildlife loses huge chunks of critical habitat.  Brown bears require large tracts of wilderness to survive, and as the human population grows, it becomes more and more difficult to protect the bears’ home from economic and residential development.  The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge is the largest intact pristine island ecosystem in North America (  The Refuge encompasses 16 lakes, 117 salmon streams, wetlands, grasslands, shrub lands, Sitka spruce forest, tundra, and alpine meadows.  This habitat supports 250 species of fish, birds, and mammals, including 400 breeding pairs of bald eagles.  It supports 3000 bears, and an estimated 3500 bears live on the Kodiak Island Archipelago.  One of the stated purposes of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge is to conserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats in their natural diversity, including, but not limited to, Kodiak brown bears, salmonids, sea otters, sea lions, and other marine mammals and migratory birds.
The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1941 in response to concerns by bear hunters with the health and survival of the Kodiak brown bear population, and the original mission of the Refuge was “to protect the natural feeding and breeding range of the brown bears and other wildlife on Uganik and Kodiak Island” ( Without the strong lobbying efforts of hunting groups, it is doubtful the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge would have been formed.   The sale of bear hunting tags on Kodiak generates $90,750.00 annually, and much of this money is used for research and habitat protection.
Bear hunting on Kodiak today is very tightly regulated.  Each year, 5000 people apply for the 496 available bear-hunting permits.  Of these 496 hunters, an approximate average of 180 are successful, and 70% of the bears killed are male (  All hunters must check in with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Kodiak before going into the field, and they must check out with Fish and Game before leaving the island.  Every bear killed must be inspected by an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist before it can be taken off the island.  Because these strict regulations have the overwhelming support of guides and residents, illegal bear hunting on Kodiak is rare. (photo by Ryan Augustine).
Bear viewing on Kodiak occurs almost exclusively in the summer months when the bears are concentrated on streams or in shallow, saltwater areas at the heads of bays feeding on salmon.  It is critical for bears to consume large amounts of protein and fat in the summer to sustain them through the following winter’s hibernation.  It is especially critical for sows and cubs and pregnant sows to receive adequate nutrition.  Bear viewers can force bears away from prime feeding areas.  This impact is difficult to measure, and it is likely the bear viewers or photographers will not even realize they are impacting the bears, because some bears are tolerant of humans and will stay and feed in their presence, while other bears will leave the area as soon as they detect humans are nearby.  These less-tolerant bears may then be forced to fish in less-productive areas or at different times of the day when tides and light conditions are not as good.  Fish and Game and Refuge biologists are now studying and trying to understand the impacts that bear viewers, sport fishermen, rafters, and hikers have on Kodiak bears, and they hope to use what they learn to develop regulations to manage these impacts.

In some areas of Alaska, brown bears are considered nuisances that need to be controlled, but this is not the case on Kodiak, where most residents are proud to live next to the majestic Kodiak bear.  The Kodiak Unified Bear Subcommittee (KUBS), a subcommittee of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, consists of a group of biologists, Refuge managers, hunting guides, bear-viewing guides, pilots, and concerned citizens that meet several times a year to tackle bear-related issues on the island, such as regulations regarding bear-proof waste containers, how to protect bears and humans at road-side-bear-viewing areas, and designing, posting, and distributing proper signs and pamphlets regarding safe, bear-aware behavior.   KUBS has also developed a bear-viewing guide course which the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge hopes to soon require for all bear guides operating on the Refuge.  The purpose of this course is to ensure that only high-quality, well-trained, experienced guides operate on Kodiak.  This is not only good for the bear viewers and photographers, but it is also good for the bears, because properly-trained guides understand how to ethically view bears by disturbing them and disrupting their feeding as little as possible.

Perhaps the most telling fact that proves the Kodiak bear and its habitat are well managed is that there are currently an estimated 3500 brown bears on the Kodiak Archipelago.  Biologists believe this is the largest the Kodiak bear population has ever been.


For much more-detailed information on the history of humans and bears on the Kodiak Archipelago, I strongly recommend The History of Bears on the Kodiak Archipelago by Larry Van Daele and Kodiak Island and Its Bears by Harry Dodge.  Into Brown Bear Country by Will Troyer is an informative book on brown-bear research by a biologist and former manager of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.  The Great Bear Almanac is loaded with facts not only about brown bears but about all the bear species of the world.  Bears A Year in the Life by Matthias Breiter is a well-written book about the physiology, biology and behavior of bearsThe websites I have referenced in this article are all good sources of information about Kodiak bears, the Kodiak Archipelago, and the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. For more information on Kodiak Bears, I suggest visiting


Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Available at:

Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Brown Bear (Ursus arctos). Species Profile. Available at:

Atwell, G., Boone D., Gustafson J., and Berns, V.D. (1980).  Brown bear summer use of alpine habitat on the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.  Proceedinngs of the International Conference on Bear Research and Management, 4:: 297-305.

Bagget, J.A. (1984).  Hibernation.  Science World, 40: 8-11.

Barnes, V. G. Jr. (1990).  The influence of salmon availability on movements and range of brown bears on southwest Kodiak Island.  International Conference on Bear Research and Management, 8: 305-313.

Barnes, V.G., Jr. (1994).  Brown bear - human interactions associated with deer hunting on Kodiak Island.  Proceedings of the International Conference on Bear Research and Management, 63-73.

Barnes, V.G., Jr. (2006).  Brown bear use, distribution, and composition under different public use managements regimes at O’Malley River, Kodiak Island, Alaska.  Job Completion Report Challenge Cost Share Project.  Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.

Barnes, V.G. Jr., Van Daele, L.J. (2006). Productivity of female brown bears on Kodiak Island, Alaska. Job Completion Report for Challenge Cost Share Project. Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, Kodiak, Alaska, USA.

Berns, V.D. and Hensel, R.J. (1972).  Radio tracking brown bears on Kodiak Island.  Proceedings of the International Conference on Bear Research and Management, 19-25.

Berns V.D., Atwell G.C., and Boone D.L. (1980). Brown bear movements and habitat use at Karluk Lake, Kodiak Island.  International Conference on Bear Research and Management, 4:293-296.

Breiter, Matthias (2009).  Bears A Year in the Life.  Firefly Books Ltd.  Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada.  ISBN 1-55407-461-4.

Brown, Gary (1993).  Great Bear Almanac .  Lyons and Buford, Publishers.  New York, NY. ISBN 1-55821-210-8.

Clark, W.K. (1957).  Seasonal food habits of the Kodiak bear.  Transactions of the North  American Wildlife Conference,22:145-149.

Corbit, K. (2014). A grizzly answer for obesity. The New York Times. Available at:

Dodge, H,B, (2004).  Kodiak Island and its Bears.  Great Northwest Publishing and Distributing Company.  Anchorage, Alaska USA.

Gard, R. (1971).  Brown bear predation on sockeye salmon at Karluk Lake, Alaska.  Journal of Wildlife Management, 35: 193-204.

Hensel, R. J., Troyer, W.A., and Erickson, A.W. (1969).  Reproduction in the female brown bear.       Journal of Wildlife Management, 33: 357-365.

Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. Bear monitoring and research on Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. Available at:

Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. About the Refuge. Available at:

Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. Brown bear habitat study. Available at:

McLoughlin, P.D., Ferguson, F.H., and Messier, F. (2000).  Intraspecific variation in home range overlap with habitat quality: A comparison among brown bear populations.  Evolutionary Ecology,14:39-60.

Merriam, C.H. (1896).  Ursus middendorfi.  Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 69-71.

Nesbitt. W. H. and Reneau, J. Editors(1988).  Records of North American Big Game 9th Edition.  Boone and Crocket Club.  Dumfries, VA.  ISBN 0-940864-13-4.

Paetkau D.,Shields G.F.., Strobeck C (1998).  Gene flow between insular, coastal and interior  populations of brown bears in Alaska.  Molecular Ecology, 7:1283 - 1292.

Paetkau D., Waits L.P., Clarkson P.L., Craighead L., Vyse E., Ward R., Stroebeck C. (1998). Variation in genetic diversity across the range of North American brown bears.  Conservation Biology, 12: 418-429.

Reardon, J., (1964).  The Kodiak Bear War. Outdoor Life, 134(2): 17-19, 70-76.    

Reardon, S., (2011).  The secrets of bear hibernation.  Science Now. 

Rogers, L.L.(1981). A bear in its lair. Natural History Magazine. 70910):64-70.        

Talbot L., and Shields G.F. (1996).  Phylogeography of brown bears (Ursus arctos) of Alaska and paraphyly within the Ursidae.  Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 5:477-494.

Talbot, S.L., Gust, R.J., Sage, G.K., Fishbach, a., Amstrup, K., Leacock, W., and Van Daele, L. (2006).  Genetic characterization of brown bears of the Kodiak Archipelago.  Final Report to Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, Kodiak, Alaska.

Troyer, W.A., Hensel R.J., and Durley, K.E. (1962).  Live trapping and handling of brown bear. Journal of Wildlife Management, 26: 330-331.

Troyer, W.A. and Hensel, P.J. (1964a).  Structure and distribution of a Kodiak bear population. Journal of Wildlife Management, 28:769-772.

Troyer, W.A. and Hensel, R.J. (1964b).  Behavior of female brown bears under stress.  Journal of Mammology, 45: 488-489.

Troyer, Will (2005).  Into Brown Bear Country.  University of Alaska Press.  Fairbanks, AK. ISBN 1-889963-72-0.

Van Daele, L.J., Barnes V.G. Jr., and Smith R.B. (1990).  Denning characteristics of brown bears on Kodiak Island, Alaska.  Proceedings of the International Conference on Bear Research and Management, 8: 257-267.         

Van Daele, L.J. (2003).  The History of Bears on the Kodiak Archipelago.  Alaska Natural History Association.  Anchorage, Alaska USA.  ISBN: 0-930931-47-5.

Van Daele, L.J. (2007).  Population dynamics and management of brown bears on Kodiak Island,  Alaska (PDF).  Doctoral dissertation.  University of Idaho, Moscow, USA.      Http:// Retrieved 17 May, 2012.

Wickelgren, I. (1988).  Bone loss and the three bears: A circulating secret of skeletal stability.  Science News,134:424-4.








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