When Bears Get Grumpy

(This post originally published in October 2010)

Reaching back into the archives, I found these images that tell a really neat story. These images were taken in September 2004 during my first visit to Hallo Bay Wilderness Camp (Alaska), where I spent a week in the camp and photographed beautiful brown bears (coastal grizzlies) everyday. In our fourth day there, we happened upon a sow with 2 spring cubs. While we were watching the bears at the creek, mom bear (I’ll call her “Mother Aggression” to differentiate her from the other sow) left her 2 spring cubs on the creek bank, not far from us, while she waded out into the middle of the creek. Another sow was busy fishing this area, while her 2 “cubs” (they were 3-year olds, but still with mom) were fishing on the far side of the creek. As Mother Aggression approached this sow, a feeling of “something is going to happen” filled the air. No sooner than this thought went through my head, Mother Aggression attacked the sow, trying to take over this fishing spot. As soon as this fight started, the sow’s 2 cubs rushed in to help mom out. Here is that scene:

Brown Bear fight

 

As the fight progressed, the two cubs rushed in to mom’s side to help her out:

Brown Bear fight

 

Mother Aggression then turned to her right to fend off the nearest cub (mom and the second cub can be seen on the left):

Brown Bear fight

 

In this next image, the action really heats up. Unfortunately, this trip was shot with my first digital camera and during my early career in photography. Not paying attention, I had the camera controls set so that my shutter speeds were ~1/45 second, much, much slower than I should have been at and my panning with the action caused the blur. But even so, you can see the ferocious action that was ensuing. I added this image to this post not because I’m proud of it, but I wanted to show Mother Aggression getting bitten on her right, rear flank … and by the way, I think another factor for this image being blurry was simply my excitement … the bears were not the only ones with an adrenalin rush! I certainly was not prepared for this wonderful encounter!

Brown Bear fight

 

A few frames later, you can clearly see the injury to Mother Aggression’s right hip:

Brown Bear fight

 

This next image shows the action as Mother Aggression is surrounded by the other 3 bears, not a good place to be!

Brown Bear fight

 

Shortly after the above image was made, Mother Aggression backed away and headed to the bank where her 2 cubs were. While the last of the fight was taking place, my thoughts had turned to Mother Aggression’s cubs and I quickly looked around to find them intently watching the fight:

Brown Bear cubs watching mom in a bear fight

 

Brown Bear cubs watching mom in a bear fight

 

As this fight began, my thoughts quickly turned to the 2 little cubs. What would happen to them if mom was seriously injured? Fortunately, mom came out of this skirmish with only a superficial injury to her hip, which was evident as she limped away with her 2 spring cubs following closely behind her.

If you ever witness a bear fight, you will not soon forget it … the noise can be deafening as the bears go about their business. In fact, some of the camp guests had gone off another direction this evening and were about a half mile away from us. Even so, when we met back up with them later in the evening, they asked us what was going on where we were … they had heard the bears as the fight took place. And during the end-of-season fishing activities, the bears’ main objective is to down as much fish as possible, a condition termed hyperphagia. This often leads to such “disagreements” between the bears. As I reviewed the images for this post, I began thinking about the possibilities that might be there for us when we visit the 2 bear reserves on next year’s photo workshop … you never know what might happen (Update:  my photo workshop was, unfortunately, sans “disagreements”! But as one door closes, another opens … and we had some wonderful encounters with bears at both places).

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Posted in 2010, 2013, Blog, Mammals, Nature Photography, Travel Photography
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