A Big Bear with a Big Success Story
While many large animals in North America find their way to the endangered species list, the Kodiak brown bear is a success story in the management of wildlife. The Kodiak bear is healthy and productive throughout the archipelago and its population is actually increasing. In fact, the Kodiak bear population is at an historic high. According to Alaska Department of Fish & Game estimates, there are 3,500 bears on the Kodiak Archipelago. The vast majority of these bears live in the protected lands of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, which comprises two-thirds of the island.
The Kodiak bear is a subspecies of the brown or grizzly bear. Brown bears migrated to the Kodiak Archipelago from mainland Alaska about 12,000 years ago. As the climate warmed at the end of the last ice age, the sea level rose and the bears became an isolated population. They live exclusively on the islands of theKodiak Archipelago.
Kodiak bears are the largest bears in the world. While they may grow to over 1,000 pounds, the average adult male weighs between 600-900 lbs; females generally weigh about 30 percent less. Although Kodiak bears are often touted as the world’s largest carnivore, they are actually omnivores. Although fish is an important part of their diet, they eat more grass, plants and berries than meat and rarely expend the time or effort necessary to chase and kill animals.
Bears and humans have coexisted on the Kodiak Archipelago for almost 8,000 years. Ancestors of the Alutiiq venerated and respected their island co-habitants and although they were hunted for food, clothing and tools, native hunters left the head in the field as a sign of respect to the spirit of the bears. Kodiak has a long history of bear hunting which continues today. Regulated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the hunting system is designed to keep bear populations at an appropriate level for the health and welfare of the species. Kodiak is fortunate to have one of the most successful and well-regulated hunting systems in the world.
Bear-viewing is one of the most popular activities on Kodiak Island. The best time to see a Kodiak bear is during July, August and September and the best way to do so is in the company of a knowledgeable outfitter. Most local air taxis offer half-day viewing trips. Multi-day bear viewing treks can be booked with remote lodges. Some boat charters and kayak outfitters specialize in bear and wildlife viewing. Special use cabins can be reserved through the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge office and through the Alaska State Parks office in Kodiak. Bears are rarely seen on the road system, so if seeing a Kodiak brown bear is an important component of your Alaska experience, plan ahead, select an outfitter, and book your bear-viewing experience several months in advance.
It is important to always remember that we are guests in the bears' home and that the future of this unique population depends on the respect and thoughtfulness humans demonstrate when visiting bear country. Kodiak bears are shy by nature and any kind of human interaction may cause them stress. In most cases these bears are not a threat, but they do deserve your respect and attention. When traveling in bear country always exercise caution and keep alert to the opportunity to see these magnificent animals in their natural habitat. Learn as much as you can before your trip. Call or email for brochures on bear viewing and bear safety along with information on outfitters, lodges, and air and water transportation to bear viewing areas. Email:
Phone: 907-486-4782 or 800-789-4782.
Bears Don’t Like Surprises! When hiking or fishing on your own, look for signs of bears and make plenty of noise. Thick vegetation and tall grasses on Kodiak Island make it difficult to see bears. It’s best to travel in groups. If you can’t, try to walk with the wind at your back so your scent will alert bears to your presence.
Bears, like humans, use trails and roads. Detour around areas where you see or smell carcasses of fish or animals or see scavengers congregated. Bears are likely to defend food aggressively. Never set up camp near a trail bears might use.
Don’t Crowd Bears! Respect their “personal space.” When photographing bears, use long lenses and avoid getting close. Getting to close not only endangers you but is stressful to the bears.
Bears are Hungry! Bears only have about six months to build up fat reserves for a long winter hibernation. Don’t let them learn that human food is an easy meal. It is illegal to feed bears either on purpose or by leaving food out to attract them. You are putting yourself and the bear in danger if you do this.
Camping with Bears
Never camp near a trail used by bears. Always cook away from your tent. Store all food away from your campsite. Hang food out of reach of bears if possible. If no trees are available, store your food in airtight or special, bear-proof containers. Never store food of any kind inside your tent.
Keep your camp clean. Wash all dishes. Avoid foods like bacon or smoked fish and keep food smells off your clothing. Burn garbage completely in a hot fire and pack out the remains. Do not bury garbage. Bears have keen noses and are expert diggers.
Fishing with Bears
If a bear approaches while you are fishing, stop fishing. If you have a fish on your line, don’t let it splash. If that’s not possible, cut the line. If a bear learns it can obtain fish simply by approaching fishermen, it will return for more.
Avoid bears whenever possible and give it every opportunity to avoid you. If you do encounter a bear at close distance, remain calm. Attacks are rare. Most bears are only interested in protecting food, cubs or their “personal space,” so give them plenty of space. Identify yourself as human. Talk to the bear in a normal voice. Wave your arms. Help the bear recognize you. If a bear cannot tell what you are, it may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening. You may try to back away slowly and diagonally, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground.
Don’t run. You cannot out run a bear and, like dogs, they will chase a fleeing animal. A charging bear might get to within a few feet of you before stopping. Continue waving your arms and talking to the bear. If it does not leave or continues to approach, become more defensive. Raise your voice, beat on pans, use noisemakers, and throw rocks or sticks. Drive a bear off rather than let it follow you. If with a group, stand shoulder to shoulder to present a larger outline. Defend yourself against a bear entering your tent or cabin.
For more information contact the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (907) 486-1880
or Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (907) 486-2600.
For bear viewing opportunities contact the Kodiak Island Convention and Visitors Bureau
(907) 486-4782 or email