The Salmon Fishing Bears of Brooks Falls

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Brooks Falls is a waterfall located on the Brooks River within Katmai National Park and Preserve, in Alaska, and a favorite fishing hole for Alaskan brown bears. The bears are attracted by salmons that arrive at the Brooks Falls between July and early September on their way to Brooks Lake, about 2.4 km upstream, where the fish spawn. In order to reach Brooks Lake the fish have to navigate the Brooks Falls. Fortunately for them, Brooks Falls is small – just 6 feet tall, which the energetic salmons can easily leap over. But doing so makes them easy prey to the bears. It is fascinating to watch the bears waiting at the top of the waterfalls to grab at the fishes as they leap out of the water. Many bears attempt to "guide" the salmon into its mouth with its paw, a skill they have perfected throughout their lives at Brooks River.

Many well known photographs and video documentaries of Alaskan brown bears have been taken here.


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The bears generally live in the interior of Katmai National Park and appear near Brooks Falls only when salmons are spawning. At other times of the year, very little food is available for the bears at at Brooks Falls and are only infrequently seen. A Katmai bear must eat a full year’s worth of food in 6-8 months to ensure its survival during the lean months. During the peak of the salmon migration in July, bears fish for salmon all along the Brooks River, but they are especially concentrated at Brooks Falls where they can catch many fish with little effort. As many as 40 bears could be seen fishing at the falls. These are typically the largest and the most dominant bears. Other bears who cannot compete for fishing spots at Brooks Falls fish the lower half of the Brooks River.

By late August, spawning is over and the salmons start to die. As the fish weaken and die, the bears patrol the slower moving waters of the lower Brooks River in search for dead and dying salmon that collect in the slow moving currents and eddies near the river mouth and bridge. In some years a few bears may still fish at Brooks Falls and the upper Brooks River as late as September and October.

Before the Brooks Camp was opened in the 1950s, there were fewer bears at the falls than there are today, and no more than 6-7 bears could be observed at one time. Now, with hunting banned and viewing controlled, bear numbers have boomed to quadruple their former number.


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Sources: Wikipedia / National Parks Service

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