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Alaska Wildlife Brown Bears mother and cubs

Posted in: Alaska

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Brown Bears, Mother and Cubs photography in Alaska.

One of the great joys of an Alaskan bear safari is the opportunity to follow a mother bear and her cubs, as they play, hide and feed in the Alaskan wilderness. Naturally the protective mums are cautious when they first come out with their Spring Cubs; who are far too small to defend themselves and not fast enough to run away from threats; which in the main is male bears.

Where to see Brown Bears with Cubs and what time of year?

Any wildlife sanctuary or national park in Alaska provides the opportunity to see mother bears with their cubs, but the timing of your Alaska safari is important. Bears are relatively solitary animals and only come together when a rich source of food presents itself. In Alaska the time when you see multiple bears together is mainly during one of the huge salmon runs. There are multiple species of salmon and they all run at different times duing the Alaskan summer. When they run, they run in their millions, and this attracts a large number of bears to both natural and man-made salmon runs. Large males and other sub-adults trying to make it up the pecking order arrive on mass and this is a significant risk for mother bears and their cubs. So we recommend visiting national parks in Alaska in the first 2 weeks of July or even in the spring bear viewing season, where the bears are more widely dispersed and you will find more confident mother bears allowing their cubs to follow them while feeding on sedge grass or ‘clamming’ in the estuaries.

How to photograph mother bears and cubs?

Obviously photography is a personal thing and you will choose to photograph in your own style based on the photographs you want to achieve. Expect a lot of long days of light - which can be harsh if you arrive during a hot spell - as the northerly latitudes in many parts of Alaska mean that you have close to 20 hours of light a day. We used a Canon 28-300 wide angle zoom lens for its ability to capture intimate behaviour between the mother bear and her cubs, as well as allowing us to come right back out to a wide angle shot; placing these beautiful animals within their environment and providing some scale.

Expect high energy encounters – especially with spring cubs – which produce opportunities for dynamic photographs, including young cubs climbing trees, wrestling, mock charging photographers, bathing with their mother and generally fooling around.

Also you will observe that even at a very young age the young bear cubs will copy the behaviour of their mother when she is feeding. This can lead to some tension sometimes between a more demanding bear cub and his mother who is keen to get on with the specialist technique she uses to both dig up and then eat razor clams.

How to approach a mother and cubs?

You actually do the opposite of the question above; rather than approach the bears, you let them approach you on their terms; to a distance which your expert bear guide feels comfortable with. This means often ‘opening a wide gate’ for the family to pass through and making sure they never feel hemmed in. If the mother or cubs do come too close then you guide will let them no vocally (without aggression!) in a confident voice that that is close enough. You must always stay together as a group and never run away from a bear; who can reach speeds of 30mph in short bursts and will see respond to such behaviour as if you were prey.

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