Sprinting Coastal Brown Bear

Sprinting Coastal Brown Bear (Ursus arctos)

Beside loving bears, which I find truly fascinating animals, I love Alaska: such beautiful country, most of which is still wild and pristine, notwithstanding human efforts to drill more oil out of it (will we ever get rid of so dirty an energy source?…)

I visited Alaska twice, and I hope I will be able to go back in not too long a time. The first time I went to Katmai National Park, and the second time back to Katmai (although in a different area) and then on to the Kodiak archipelago. Alaska and Katmai in particular are among the best places you may be at to observe and photograph coastal brown bears. These are often interchangeably called “grizzlies” but, although they both belong to the species Ursus arctos, coastal brown bears (as the name implies) prevalently live in coastal areas and tend to be bigger than grizzlies who are considered a distinct subspecies (Ursus arctos horribilis) and live inland, away from major bodies of water.

If you travel to Katmai in the Summer, chances are that you are going to witness one of the most exciting phenomena in the life cycle of a coastal brown bear: the salmon run. Around that time of the year, wild sockeye salmon enter their spawning phase, during which they somehow find their way back from the ocean to the very same river where they were born so that they can work their way upstream, reach the headwater gravel beds of their birth, lay their eggs and generally die within a couple of weeks (because when they return to their original freshwater environment, they stop eating and live off their fat reserves).

Clearly, brown bears are not indifferent to nature’s call that brings the salmon back to accessible waterways to reproduce. Since fall and then winter are fast approaching (and with them a long period of hibernation), brown bears enter a phase known as hyperphagia where they maximize their food intake (they can eat up to 90 pounds of food per day!) to build up sufficient fat reserves to survive the hibernation months. In this period, coastal brown bears congregate by the shore or next to river banks anxiously waiting for one of their favorite prey to arrive in huge numbers.

When salmon eventually comes, all hell breaks loose and bears start chasing salmon in shallow waters to catch them and eat them. Bears are especially fond of salmon eggs, so much so that, after a bear has eaten enough fish for a day, sometimes it keeps catching more salmon just to eat the eggs while discarding the rest (for the seagulls’ happiness).

While I was observing a group of about six bears chasing salmon in the estuary of a river in Katmai, this young bear started sprinting in my general direction in pursuit of a salmon (that eventually proved to be faster than the bear) and gave me a great opportunity to freeze the motion of the bear at the peak of the action. The low angle of the image (that I shot kneeling in the sand) accentuates the majestic nature of the bear and creates an eye-level connection with the animal. Hope you like it!

If you would like to see more images of mine, feel free to browse my Galleries.

As per my copyright notice, please respect my work and do not download, reproduce or use the image above without first seeking my consent. Thank you :-)


20 thoughts on “Sprinting Coastal Brown Bear

  1. talkavino

    As soon as I saw a bear picture in the WP reader, it was “aha, here is Stefano’s post” moment : ) The bear looks great!

    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you, Maria!
      Well, the answer to your question is… yes and no. 🙂 Polar bears are very dangerous and should be approached with the utmost caution, no matter how “cute” they may look. 😉 They are incredibly aggressive and hungry and they are not selective as to what goes into their diet. As to the other species of bears, the three main reasons for bear attacks to humans are the association of man with food (as unfortunately is the case in many U.S. National Parks, when campers leave food behind or do not use sealed containers to store it); fear by a mama bear that a human may be a threat to her offspring; and startling a bear who has not realized that you were there (because it did not see you, hear you or pick up your smell). Leaving those situations aside, bears view men as another animal in the ecosystem, so by going in a group and exercising the caution that is owed to any wild animal, it is just a wonderful experience to experience up close.

      1. Maria Dernikos

        Bears, National Parks and Picnics just reminded me of Yogi and made me smile. Your photography is just fabulous Stefano. I am really enjoying it and love your knowledge and respect behind the camera.

  2. maureenjenner

    The photographs are superb. I noticed that some of the animals were in better condition than others; age perhaps or time of year? You must have a some very powerful lenses to get the impression of being within ‘stroking’ distance; I could almost feel the hot fish-laden breath! Your shots appear to be low angle; always difficult, and needing great patience, as well as resisting the ‘wobble’ that comes from cramped limbs. Thanks for sharing them

    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you, Maureen!
      Regarding conditions, while clearly when photographing wild animals you take whatever nature sends your way and you cannot be too picky 😉 it seems to me that all of the animals that I have posted images of so far were in great conditions: they were all young animals in their prime. Perhaps you refer to other images that you have seen on my photography Web site?
      As to lenses, it depends on the animal and the situation: the image above was taken with a 500mm tele, but other bear photographs I have (or the snow monkey photograph that I posted a while ago) were all taken with much shorter lenses, often a 70-200mm zoom.
      And absolutely: shooting from a low angle is one of the key elements of a good wildlife image and that requires, beside the use of a sturdy tripod, a lot of patience and waiting for the right conditions to come together, regardless of heat, cold, rain, snow, dust, mud, mosquitoes… But, when those things all come together, the result is such that you gladly forget about what it took to get the shot! 🙂

  3. whiskeytangofoxtrot4

    GORGEOUS bear gallery…. I love the one of the bear sitting in the river with his fish…he looks like a little kid with a candy…. he almost looks cuddly,,,but we know better hey? :0)
    You are very talented Stefano…. and definitely have your own style. Before I saw your name on the WP reader I thought, yup, here is Clicks and Corks!

  4. ChgoJohn

    Fantastic photo of a truly powerful animal. Stefano. This is no Teddy bear; just look at the claws on its right paw! This is a great shot as are the rest of “your” bears. Beautifully done, all ’round.

    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you very much, John: I really appreciate it, and I am glad you enjoyed the image.
      Yes, that was one strong, young brown bear indeed!

  5. petit4chocolatier

    WOW! Wonderful shot! I have never been to Alaska and have friends that have and loved it! Your photography is exquisite. I looked at your gallery.., gorgeous!

    1. Stefano Post author

      Thank you so much, Judy: immensely appreciated!
      And yes, Alaska is really beautiful, totally worth planning a trip to.
      Take care!


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