Polar Bear Blog – Family Matters

Well, this was a big ‘bear day’.  We started early and ‘chased’ bears until almost dusk, not too often you see eight bears around this early in the season.

Last night, after getting hopelessly stuck on the beach ourselves (rain go away), we came across a rental vehicle equally hopelessly stuck a little further east.  While we were pulling them out, they mentioned that a mother with two cubs was hanging out just in the rocks beside us – good to know…

Anyway, we thought we would get a headstart this morning and be back there for dawn.  Sure enough, a short time after sunrise, first one then two more heads peaked up out of the willows.  She was pretty nervous, looking to be a bit of an older bear but maybe not so old that she was brimming with confidence.  Erring on the side of caution is never a bad thing when you’re raising cubs I suppose.

We spent a couple hours easing our way in, giving her ample time to get used to our presence and eventually she nursed in the willows beside us, a real treat that close.  She was pretty obscured by the willows, staying out of the wind and off the radar, but it was a great encounter.

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Then, while we were watching this family, another mother with a single cub-of-the-year (COY) appeared across the lake.  She was just waking up, stretching in her day bed near the rocks.  Soon, she took her cub out for a stroll and the family beside us snapped to attention.  Our female locked in on the new bear, variably standing to assess the situation, clicking her jaws at her cubs.  She quickly assembled the troops and retreated from the situation entirely, walking right past our vehicles, even using them as a bit of ‘cover’ for their retreat.  Standing a few more times, she disappeared into the willows… as the other family watched, seeming to be a bit bewildered by the excitement.

As the family of three heading off down the beach, seeking out a new hiding spot in the willows, the mom and her cub headed back to the rocks where we caught up to her.  For the rest of the day, we watched her and her cub play, the cub variably tackling the mom each time she tried to break away for a nap.  This is the ‘plight’ of female bears with single cubs; they must entertain.  With two cubs, the mother can remain watchful while the young bears roll and tumble.  One cub has to play with its mom since rocks, twigs and sometimes travel mugs don’t hold their attention for too long.

This is a young mother, another bear just entering the arduous world of raising cubs.  She is still a pretty small bear herself, quite possibly on her first litter.  Most often, this first litter will not survive even to this point, so getting one cub to this point is a bit of an achievement.

She looks to be in good condition, maybe scavenging on some washed up whale meat or seal, or maybe just feasting on berries and geese, who knows… either way, its a good sign.  She is a bit ‘lax’ with her cub, letting the cub wander towards us occasionally.  This is always a tricky one because you definitely don’t want to disturb a family of bears but you also don’t want the cub jogging right up to you.  A distraction like a tripod or travel mug or a rock usually works but then it also brings the added dilemma of getting your tripod or mug back in one piece.

I hope they make it.  This season seems to be a little bit ahead of schedule so I don’t expect a late freeze, as long as these two stay out of trouble and get back on the ice for some early season hunting they should be okay.  But, this mother needs to be a lot more cautious like our other older bear from the morning.  She is pretty quiet and instead followed her cub towards us instead of huffing and chuffing her cub back towards her.  This is fine when its just me but not so much with a big male bear.

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