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Spring is for Lovers…and Bears

05-21-2014

By Jeremy Saenz, Un-Cruise Adventures, expedition guide, small ship cruises in Alaska

I love springtime in Southeast Alaska. There are so many things going on and the sense of “new beginnings” is in the air everywhere you look. Migratory birds begin to arrive looking for a summer home or just stopping in for a brief rest and a meal on their way to destinations further north. Hungry humpback whales also begin to arrive from their breeding and birthing grounds in warmer tropical waters looking for a meal and a teaching opportunity for this year’s calves.

As the low elevation snow is banished by the sun for the summer, beach meadows begin to come alive with new green shoots and the first wildflowers of the summer. It is a time for awakening for both plants and animals, and there is no better time to visit this natural gem.

flowerflower2

And then there are the bears.

brown bear

bear intertidal

Spring is the best time of year to view bears in Southeast Alaska because their main source of food is found out in the open where they can easily be spotted from the deck of one of our vessels. Both black and brown bears inhabit the forests of Southeast Alaska, and for them, spring is both a difficult time and an exciting time.

It is difficult because the food items that make their lives easy in mid-summer and fall aren’t present and a long winter of living off fat reserves has left them skinny and famished. During these early months, a bear finds nourishment in spring’s tender green plants found mainly in lower elevation beach meadows near the shoreline. In addition, the intertidal zone, utilized by Southeast Alaska’s bears year round, is most important in the spring when a resourceful foraging bear can find protein in anything from washed up fish to barnacles. For this reason, the wheelhouse is a busy place when we pull into a small bay or cove as all eyes are looking for bears in the meadows and shorelines.

bear foraging

bear paw prints

bear at shore

kayakers see bear

Spring is also an exciting time for Southeast Alaska’s bears. Like many other animals, spring is for lovers, and bears are no exception. Usually independent and asocial, the melting of winter snow brings out an unusually amorous nature in mature male bears and female bears without cubs. Because female bears only come into estrus for 2-3 weeks once each year, time is of the essence. Courtship is brief and both male and females may mate with more than one partner. It is always special to see more than one bear in a meadow anytime of the year in Southeast Alaska. In the springtime, however, we tend to pay special attention to a multiple bear sighting. After all, spring is for bears…and lovers.

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