Brown bear mother and cub in Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska
© Suzi Eszterhas/Minden Picture
The bears of summer. Brown bears, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Summer up north belongs to the bears. When the sun reigns, so do the brown bears of Alaska – like this mother and cub in Katmai National Park and Preserve, about 260 miles southwest of Anchorage. Also known as grizzly bears in Alaska, the brown bears pack a year of living into the summer months, foraging, feasting, frolicking, fighting, and mating under skies of nearly perpetual daylight.
The Alaskan variety of brown bears is the biggest in the world due in no small part to the summer bounty of food found on their home turf. Alaska springs to life in summer, and the bears take full advantage, eating up to 90 pounds of food per day. That kind of binge eating packs on three to six pounds of fat daily, which they will need to get through the winter hibernation, which can last up to eight months for some of them. It helps that grizzlies are not picky eaters. They’ll eat berries, flowers, roots, fish, small mammals like beavers, and big ones like caribou. That diet helps them reach weights of 1,000 pounds. The biggest are found on Kodiak Island, where a subspecies of about 3,500 bears have lived in isolation for about 12,000 years. Kodiak bears can weigh up to 1,700 pounds, three times the size of some of their North American and Eurasian cousins.
Centuries ago, brown bears flourished in much of Europe, North Africa, California, and even Mexico. Although their numbers and territory have shrunk considerably, there are still about 200,000 brown bears in the world, most of them in Russia, Canada, and the US. As such, they are the most widely distributed bear species in the world. Some of the luckiest among them are these coastal bears of Alaska. Katmai is a verdant wonderland of mountain ranges, valleys, lakes, and rivers. There are no roads into the region, keeping pesky humans at bay. (Visitors must use boats or floatplanes.) In short, this mom and baby live in a bear paradise, literally living large.