Grizzly Bears Emerge from the Den

High in the mountains above the tree line the grizzly bear hibernates. As the sun strengthens and the snow begins to melt a female grizzly breaks through the protective layer of sGrizzly Bear with Cubs - Photo by DarylDancerWade.comnow to greet the spring. She is not alone this year, three small cubs peek out onto a bright and strange world. Born in the dark den to a sleeping mother, these cubs the size of a pound of butter begin to nurse on their mother’s rich milk, gaining weight and growing bigger each day.

Emerging from the den, signals the beginning of the cub’s lessons in survival. Female grizzly bears have many lessons to teach their young. She will need to keep her cubs close by for three winters before they are ready to go off on their own.

At first the young family stays close to the winter den until the cubs learn to scramble over logs, along steep rocky slopes and through the dense underbrush. Slowly, she leads her cubs down to the low tide beaches of Knight Inlet. It is on these rocky beaches she will find protein, that will provide the calories required to replace the almost forty percent of her body weight she lost over the winter. She will teach her young charges how to roll rocks to find tasty morsels of eels, crabs and small fish that have been stranded under the rocks as the water recedes. By the middle of summer these cubs of the year will be rolling rocks that are half their size just like mom.

Spring is not a safe time for young cubs, male grizzly bears are roaming the beaches and estuaries in search of food and finding a mate. Males will kill the cubs to force females back into heat. Though the quest for food is strong the survival of her cubs is stronger still. She will stay away from the highly productive estuaries and remain near an old avalanche chute eating skunk cabbage and other spring shoots. This mother grizzly will only venture into the estuary when she is certain the males have finished mating and moved into the high country to gorge on the ripening alpine berries.

With the males gone, she is now confident that her cubs will be safe, she now begins to graze on the nutritious sedges of the estuary. This valuable food source will sustain her and the cubs until the salmon begin to arrive. As nutritious as the sedge is she will need to consume over 70 kilos a day in order to replace her important fat source.

It is now nearing the end of summer and on a lucky day a sharp eyed bald eagle snatches an early salmon from the shallow water. As the eagle rips open the wriggling fish, the mother catches a familiar scent on the wind and begins to trot along the beach in search for the salmon. Appearing suddenly over a rocky ridge the grizzly startles the eagle into flight leaving its prey. This grizzly family enjoys its first salmon meal of the season.

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2 Responses to Grizzly Bears Emerge from the Den

  1. Helen Walker says:

    How old are the Grizzly cubs when they start to catch salmon independently, rather than relying on their mother catching them for them?

  2. Derek says:

    Great question! Second year cubs will begin to learn their craft through observation of their mother as are all of their life skills. The tactics their mother uses to catch fish (which varies from individual to individual) will be adopted by the cub and from that point forward they will modify and hopefully perfect what is arguably the most important life lesson to learn for a coastal bear.

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