Kodiak Bears

Kodiak bears are the largest subspecies of the brown bear. They have lived isolated from other bears for over 10,000 years. They were recognized as subspecies Ursus arctos middendorffi by C. Hart Merrium in 1896.

Kodiak bear portrait

In the wild, Kodiak bears are found only on the islands in the Kodiak Archipelago off the south coast of Alaska. They are believed to have been isolated there since the last Ice Age over 10,000 years ago. Because of the abundance of food on Kodiak Island, they have smaller home ranges than any other brown bears and have no need to defend territories.

The average adult male Kodiak bear stands five feet at the shoulder when on all four and can measure over 10 feet when standing upright. The average male weighs from 1000 to 1200 pounds. Between the springtime when they leave hibernation and the fall, their weight can increase by more than 50 percent. Females are about 20 percent smaller in size and weigh 30 percent lighter than males. Kodiak bears vary in color from beige to dark brown. Although there are Kodiak bears on record for having dimensions measuring larger than that of the polar bears', the polar bear on average is still by far the largest species of bear alive. Bears that die of natural causes live to be 20 to 25 years on average.

Kodiak bear fishing

Kodiak bears are omnivorous (eating a variety of foods). The bear's large size is mainly due to the abundance of food readily available to them on Kodiak Island. In general, Kodiak bears are solitary creatures, though they often feed in large groups when food is plentiful.

After hibernation, they feed on vegetation and animals that died the past winter. Starting in May, the bears feast on a salmon run that lasts into October. All five species of Pacific salmon run wild throughout most of Kodiak Archipelago. Fish are an important part of their diet. However, Kodiak bears will more often spend their time feeding on vegetation rather than put in the time and effort required to kill animals. They also feed on several types of berries, seaweed, and invertebrates.

Kodiak bears reach sexual maturity at about 5 years of age, but most females don't have any offspring until they are about 9. The mating season occurs in May and June. Two or three cubs are born the next January or February during hibernation. They weigh less than a pound at birth, but will weigh 15 to 20 pounds when they leave the den in May or June. The cubs usually stay with their mother for 3 years. Females reproduce about every 4 years throughout most of their lives.

Kodiak cub

Most Kodiak bears dig their dens in mountainsides. Pregnant sows are the first to begin hibernating in late October. Males are the last to begin hibernating and the first to emerge, in April. Females with offspring sometimes don't emerge until late June. About 25 percent of adult males remain active throughout the winter and don't hibernate at all.

There are approximately 3,500 bears that inhabit the Kodiak Archipelago. Their number has been slowly increasing in recent years. Kodiak bears are protected by the federal government. Hunting is permitted, but strictly regulated. Alaska Fish and Game only issues 325 hunting permits annually out of about 5,000 Alaskan natives that apply. All non-residents are required to be accompanied by a professional guide. Non-residential hunting licenses are $10,000 to $15,000. Each year, about 160 bears are killed.

The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge covers two-thirds of Kodiak Island, Uganik Island, Ban Island, and the Red Peaks area of Afognak, totaling roughly 3,000 square miles of protected habitat.

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