Meet the giant brown bear of kodiak island

Picture of a giant brown Kodiak bear.

When Russian fur traders explored Kodiak Island in Alaska the 1760’s, they encountered a nine-foot-tall, shaggy monster with menacing teeth and huge paws.

The startled men had seen brown bears in Siberia but none like this gigantic fellow!

Traders dubbed him “Ivan the Terrible.”

Today this giant bruin is called the Kodiak bear.

Suddenly to meet a papa bear standing over nine feet high and weighing more than 1,300 pounds could give one quite a terrifying impression.

As for Mr. Kodiak Bear’s distinguishing features, these are his high, humped shoulders, which conceal a large mass of muscle above the shoulder blades.

You might call him the “muscle man” of his domain.

Life on Kodiak Island

Papa bear may reach 1,500 pounds by the fall of the year, but mamma, considerably smaller, seldom weighs more than 650 pounds.

However, you will be more impressed with their full-grown size when you learn that three newborn cubs, born in midwinter, are small enough to fit in a man’s cupped hands.

How pathetic baby looks at birth—hairless, blind and weighing about one pound! It may seem difficult to imagine that he will grow up to the majestic stature of his parents.

After a couple of months come spring’s warming temperatures, and the cubs weigh from ten to fifteen pounds.

All healthy growing children put on weight rapidly, so, by midsummer they weigh fifty pounds.

When they are ready for their winter nap with mother next fall, they will weigh one hundred pounds.

Baby brother keeps enlarging until he is “grown-up” at between eight and ten years of age. Baby sister is finished growing at six years.

While the older, mature bears often appear very dignified and solemn, the young are playful and mischievous.

Picture of two young brown Kodiak bears playing.

Their cuffing and wrestling can even entice mamma into the fun.

In the spring, when snow remains at the higher elevations, bears have been observed sliding down snowbanks, often repeating the performance a number of times.

Off the coast of southern Alaska is Kodiak Island, the home of this giant bear.

It is largely mountainous, and steep slopes and dense tangled undergrowth make travel difficult for man.

But for Mr. Kodiak Bear it is a different matter.

He ambles along faster than a human can walk, and steep and rocky slopes do not seem to slow him down either.

Sometimes he is seen in areas that make us wonder if he is part mountain goat.

When frightened, he will increase his speed to a running gallop that carries him over logs and through brush at a surprising rate.

While he is often depicted standing on his hind legs, this is not done while walking any distance.

But it is a common practice for him to stand nine feet tall when his curiosity is aroused or when he needs to identify an intruder in thick vegetation.

An island of natural rugged beauty is a suitable habitat for this magnificent animal.

Preferring to be near the salt-laden breezes from the sea, this brown giant does not wander very far inland.

In the summer the temperature seldom rises above 75° F. Thickets of alder, willow and cottonwood make fine resting-places for Mr. Kodiak Bear and his household.

Though winter temperatures rarely drop below zero degrees F., not all is calm in this island home range.

In the winter, howling gales work their fury out by sending towering waves against the rocky coastline.

Fog and drizzling rain are common.

How appropriate that the fur coat is not only warm but also water repellent!

Kodiak diet

Picture of Kodiak bear eating fish.

Though a meat eater, the Kodiak bear enjoys vegetation.

In fact, about 75 percent of his yearly diet is from grazing on vegetation and berries.

To “balance” his diet he enjoys carrion, and, in the summer months, a plentiful supply of fresh salmon is available.

During midsummer, these giant bears congregate along the many salmon streams.

If an observer watches closely, he will see that the popular artist’s conception of the big bear’s slapping a fish out of the water with his paw is seldom true.

As he stands in the stream he pounces on a salmon with his forepaws.

Occasionally, he will simply thrust his head underwater and snap at a fish with his teeth.

As in the case with humans, there are experienced fishermen and there are novices.

The older bears seldom move any distance to make a catch and usually come up with a choice morsel right away.

Junior, on the other hand, often races up and down the stream frantically bounding here and there, with fish slithering in every direction except under his paws.

This year’s cubs let mamma do the fishing for them, and they can be seen on the bank, eagerly awaiting her return.

After a successful catch, the family will move to a thicket where mamma will intentionally eat just a portion of the fish, leaving the remainder for the youngsters to quarrel over.

After their fill of this plentiful food, the family will often retire to a nearby meadow and sprawl out in a variety of poses for an afternoon nap.

Some have been observed sleeping on their backs with all four paws sticking up in the air.

By the middle of August the family often leaves the stream for the ripening berries.

They will gorge themselves on salmonberries and blueberries as long as they are available.

By early October, many are drawn back to the salmon streams to take advantage of the late run of spawning fish.

As winter closes in on them, they are usually well prepared to sleep out the most harsh weather.

Good summer appetites help to fortify them with a dense layer of fat and a lush new fur coat.

From summer to late fall, growing bears increase in weight by about 30 percent. In checking on this weight gain, biologists tabulated a gain of forty-five pounds for one three-year-old male in just twelve days.

That is an average gain of 3.7 pounds per day.

No concern over reducing diets in this family!

Zoologists now recognize that the Kodiak bear does not truly hibernate but is better called a winter sleeper.

One can quickly see the difference by contrasting the bear with the woodchuck, a true hibernator.

Viewed during the winter, a woodchuck appears as though dead and is completely unconscious.

 Its normal body temperature of 96.9° F. is reduced to 38 degrees, and it takes only one breath every six minutes.

The bear, on the other hand, maintains a normal body temperature and his breathing is reduced to four or five complete respirations a minute.

When you are in deep slumber, your breathing rate is about the same.

The bear’s heartbeat is slower than normal but he is semiconscious.

His sleep is not always uninterrupted, as he can be routed out of his winter home without too much difficulty.

Unaggressive, but Caution Advised

A picture of a Kodiak brown bear with it''s cub.

Although men have dubbed this gigantic beast as being “terrible” and “ferocious,” some opinions have been altered.

Zoologists and others who have spent many years observing them, recognize that these powerful creatures will make every possible effort to avoid contact with man.

As zoologist George G. Goodwin says:

“Despite their enormous size and great strength, the big brownies are not aggressive and rarely kill large game. However, a brown bear with her cubs is best given a wide berth; when wounded, this animal can be as treacherous as the most ferocious wild creature.”

There have been incidents in which men have been seriously injured by these jumbo bears, so care should be exercised when in the vicinity of them.

Since Mr. Bear’s hearing and smelling senses are keener than his eyesight, persons wishing to avoid contact with him in the brush usually try to make plenty of noise.

Local inhabitants have for generations whistled loudly when out berry picking in the bear’s domain.

Thus, Mr. Bear is not startled and has opportunity to move away from the human intruders without delay.

Though having the reputation of being the largest flesh-eating land animal in the world, this giant bruin of Kodiak Island is not really as “terrible” as the early traders feared.