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Bear Watching
State of Alaska > Commerce > OED > Student Info   > Outdoors   > Bear Watching
 
Alaska is bear territory!

There are three types of bears found in Alaska: the black bear, brown/grizzly bear and polar bear. Black bear habitat includes most of the state, with higher densities occurring in the Prince of Wales Archipelago and the mainland forests of southeastern Alaska, as well as throughout the forested lands surrounding Prince William Sound, in southcentral Alaska. Black bears can be brown in color, and may be confused with a grizzly, although they are normally smaller than a grizzly, with a more pointed head. Brown/Grizzly bears range in color from black to blonde, and are found in most of the state from the islands of Southeast to the Arctic. Alaska's coastal brown/grizzly bear is the world's largest carnivorous land mammal. Polar bears frequent the pack ice and tundra of extreme northern and western Alaska, and are seldom seen by visitors.

Polar Bear

Polar Bears
(Ursus Maritimus)

Length: 8-10 feet
Weight: Males 600-1,400 pounds
Weight: Females 400-700 pounds
Color: White
Alaska Population Estimate: 4,000-6,000

Black Bear

Black Bears
(Ursus Americanus)

Length: 5 feet
Weight: Males 150-400 pounds
Weight: Females 125-250 pounds
Color: Brown to Black, white patch on front of chest
Alaska Population Estimate: 50,000+

Brown Bear

Brown Bears
(Ursus Arctos)

Length: 7-9 feet
Weight: Males 400-1,100 pounds
Weight: Females 200-600 pounds
Color: Dark brown to blonde
Alaska Population Estimate: 35,000-45,000

Bear viewing

Most bears avoid people, visitors who sight a bear in the wild consider it the highlight of their trip. There are a few preserves and sanctuaries around the state where bears gather and can be viewed by visitors under controlled and fairly well-protected circumstances. The information on this sheet lists these viewing sites along with addresses and telephone numbers of the agencies that can provide you with details about visiting each location.

Anan Creek Observatory

Located on the Cleveland Peninsula in Southeast Alaska, this site is 27 air miles southeast of Wrangell and 60 air miles northeast of Ketchikan. Black bears catching and feeding on pink salmon can be observed at this site.

Contact the following agencies for site regulations, as well as guide services, and charter boats and planes.

USDA Forest Service
Wrangell Ranger District
P.O. Box 51, Wrangell, AK 99929
(907) 874-2323
Wrangell Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 49, Wrangell, AK 99929
(907) 874-3901


Pack Creek

Wildlife biologists estimate a brown bear population of 2.34 bears per square mile on southeast Alaska's Admiralty Island. Visitors can see brown bears at Swan Cove, Windfall Harbor, and the Stan Price Wildlife Sanctuary at Pack Creek on Admiralty Island. All three viewing sites are within a 30-minute flight from Juneau.

Contact the following agencies for permit applications, site regulations, lists of charter boats, planes and guide services:

Admiralty National Monument
8461 Old Dairy Road
Juneau, AK 99801
(907) 586-8800


McNeil River State Game Sanctuary

Brown bears congregate in large numbers at Mikfik Creek, McNeil River and McNeil Falls viewing sites to feed on spawning salmon. All three sites are contained within the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary located approximately 200 air miles southwest of Anchorage in Alaska's Aleutian Range.

Contact the following agencies for permit applications and fees, lottery conditions, user fees, and site regulations:

ADF&G Regional Office
Wildlife Conservation
333 Raspberry Road
Anchorage, AK 99518-1599
Susan Rose (907) 267-2204
State of Alaska
Dept. of Fish and Game Headquarters
Box 3-2000
Juneau, AK 99802-2000
ADF&G Area Office
P.O. Box 37
King Salmon, AK 99613-0037
(907) 246-3340
 


Katmai National Park and Preserve

Brooks Camp Observatory and Brooks River Falls, situated between Lake Brooks and Naknek Lake in the Katmai National Park and Preserve, are located on the Alaska Peninsula some 290 air miles southwest of Anchorage Brown bears can be seen in this area.

Brooks Camp campground reservations and regulations can only be obtained by telephoning:

Mark Wagner, Manager Brooks Camp
Katmai National Park and Preserve
King Salmon, AK 99613
(907) 246-3305

For information about private lodges and campgrounds in this area contact:

Alaska Division of Community and Business Development: Tourism Development
P.O. Box 110801
Juneau, Alaska 99801-0804-0801
(907) 465-2010

Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge

Kodiak Brown bears (Ursus Arctos Middendorffi) can be seen at O'Malley Creek in the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge on Kodiak Island, some 300 air miles south, southwest of Anchorage.

For accommodations, itinerary, travel arrangements and costs, contact:

Munsey's O'Malley Camp
Mike and Robin Munsey, Owners
Amook Pass, Kodiak, AK 99615
(907) 847-2203
Winter Address (December through March)
408 Vine Street
Minneapolis, KS 67467
(913) 392-2348
Refuge Manager
Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge
1390 Buskin River Road
Kodiak, AK 99615
(907) 487-2600

Hyder

Three miles outside of Hyder, brown and black bears congregate at Fish creek to feed on spawning salmon in July and August; visitors can watch and photograph them from an observation deck. Located in southern Southeast Alaska, Hyder is accessible by ferry or road.

Southeast Alaska Discovery Center
50 Main Street
Ketchikan, AK 99901
(907) 228-6214

There is also a chance of viewing polar bears in or near the villages of Barrow and Kaktovik on the north coast of Alaska.

City of Barrow
P.O. Box 629
Barrow, AK 99723
(907) 852-5211
City of Kaktovik
P.O. Box 27
Kaktovik, AK 99747
(907) 640-6314

Alaska Public Lands Information Center bear viewing info

Dispelling the Myths

Bears are curious, intelligent and potentially dangerous animals. Respecting bears and learning proper behavior in their territory will help to ensure that if you encounter a bear, neither of you will suffer needlessly form the experience. Learn the "do's and don'ts" of bear safety before venturing into the wilderness.

Bears can't run downhill. False Bears are quite agile and can run downhill easily and quickly.
Garbage bears are tame. False Garbage or spoiled bears pose the most hazardous threat to public safety.
Bears have poor eyesight. False Bears have good eyesight. They can see colors, form, and movement but prefer to trust their more sensitive senses of smell and hearing
Bears are big and slow. False Bears are extremely agile and can run at high speeds over short distances
Black bears aren't dangerous. False Black bears are as wild and unpredictable as any other member of the bear family.
Bears are carnivorous. False Ninety percent of a bear's diet contains vegetable matter.
Grizzly bears cannot climb trees. True
and
False
Grizzly cubs can climb all trees, but only a few adult grizzlies can climb -- and only then when branches are sufficiently spaced.
Bears don't swim. False Bears are excellent long-distance swimmers.


Other Information Sources

  • Brown Bear Summer, W.T. Bledsoe, 1987, Truman Talley Books, Dutton, N.Y.
  • River of Bears, T. Walker and L. Aumiller, 1993, Voyaguer Press, Stillwater, M.N.
  • A Gathering of Bears, 30-minute video produced by the British Broadcasting Corp., available from Alaska Video Postcards, Box 112808, Anchorage, AK 99511.
  • Bear Facts: The Essentials for Traveling in Bear Country, published by the Alaska State Department of Fish and Game, 333 Raspberry Road, Anchorage, AK 99518 (907) 267-2269.