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Ken CanningPartly eaten salmon carcasses litter the riverbank and ring the downstream island. Each second, a number of salmon launch out of the water in their try to leap the falls. Only the big 747 is fishing after I arrive to observe, but it surely’s clearly been a excellent day for hungry bears.During the peak of the salmon migration, bears hardly ever fish alone and 747 is quickly joined by an much more skilled bear. Reaching the far financial institution, Otis promptly lays down in the river, letting the water cool his flanks. For a number of minutes he doesn’t transfer besides to place his face below the water to casually seek for fish. With drooping eyelids and a downwardly nodding head, Otis seems groggy, sufficient in order that my spouse and I joke he may go to sleep in the water. Rather than a nap, Otis apparently has one thing else on his thoughts. He shakes off his sleepiness and strikes slowly towards considered one of his most most popular fishing spots, the jacuzzi.A borderline grownup when he was first recognized in 2001, Otis has turn into considered one of the oldest and most expert bears utilizing the falls. Tall and lean, with blond early summer time fur and a floppy proper ear, he stands out amongst the consort of grownup males at the river. Otis understands he can not problem 747 for the jacuzzi, so he waits downstream. When 747 strikes into the forest, maybe to relaxation and digest his earnings, Otis fills the emptiness. Settling into the plunge pool, he sits statuesque, dealing with upstream with solely his head, shoulders, and higher again uncovered above water. The jacuzzi provides no visibility to see the salmon in the water, however Otis makes no effort to place himself in a totally different place. He has no want. He is aware of precisely what he is doing.When a salmon bumps into his physique, disoriented by the churning water or compelled there by one other fish, Otis snaps into motion. His reflexes are fast and exact. Pinning the fish to the river gravel or his physique, he plunges his muzzle into the water to safe his catch.I watch, impressed and curious, as his catch price grows shortly, from 1 to 5 to 10 to 15 earlier than 747 returns and retakes the jacuzzi. The elder bear provides a modest growl however simply yields. No matter, although. Otis sees alternative elsewhere.Otis’s catch price slows solely barely at this new location. Soon, it climbs to 20 then 25, then past 30. When I go away the falls that night, I’m left awed by the capability of his abdomen. Otis caught and ate most of 35 salmon in about 5 hours. The webcam viewers continues to monitor his success price after I depart, observing Otis consuming one other seven salmon earlier than he retires for the night time. In complete, he ate all or most of 42 fish—the most salmon I’ve ever noticed a bear eat in a single sitting.A bear fishing for salmon has turn into an virtually clichéd illustration of the species, but most bear populations survive with out a lot or any fish on the menu, or with out a lot meat in any respect.A informal checklist of brown bear meals from anybody space contains dozens of species. A extra complete stock would comprise a whole lot. In Yellowstone, grizzly bears usurp elk and bison carcasses from wolves, climb mountains to feast on moths in barren scree, use their sense of scent to find underground truffles, search meadows for seeds rigorously cached by rodents, smash open the cones of whitebark pine to extract the fat-rich nuts, and raid underground ant colonies, lapping up larvae and futilely defending adults simply as readily as we dig a spoon into a bowl of ice cream.Grizzlies in the northern Rocky Mountains embody some 200 crops in their food regimen and acquire 90 p.c of their annual power from plant matter. Early in the rising season, they’ll swallow mouthfuls of inexperienced forbs and until subalpine meadows looking for roots and tubers. In late summer time, they vacuum 1000’s of blueberries off the stem at charges that exceed the most skillful bare-handed human pickers.The food regimen of bears on the Alaska Peninsula is not any much less different, though it depends on a totally different suite of meals. They eat carrion, hen eggs, birds, voles, floor squirrels, moose, caribou, different bears, and beavers. They graze on herbaceous crops reminiscent of seacoast angelica, seaside plantain, cow parsnip, grasses, and sedges. Late summer time is often berry season in Katmai when bear scat turns black, blue, and maroon with the remnants of blueberries, crowberries, lingonberries, elderberries, highbush cranberry, watermelon berry, and currants. On the coast of the park, just about any animal is on the menu together with sea otters, harbor seals, lifeless whales, clams, mussels, barnacles, and seaside fleas. They relish fish, particularly salmon after all, but their very own vomit and human feces aren’t too taboo to cross off the menu. If bears had been as widespread throughout the planet as people, then the variety of their food regimen may exceed our personal.Salmon are, on common, the richest and most nutritious meals for Katmai’s bears, and bears will go to nice effort to catch them. Most bears that fish at Brooks Falls are regulars like Otis who come again 12 months after 12 months. Most uncommon although, is the arrival of a absolutely mature grownup, one with no prior historical past at the falls, who decides to keep. Watching these bears strive to fish the falls and navigate its sleuth of bears illustrates how highly effective a motivator starvation could be and the way nicely bears adapt to new conditions.On a wet night in mid-July 2015, I watch a patchy-furred bear emerge from the timber and sure towards the waterfall. His muzzle is brief and blocky, a massive wound mars his proper flank, and his physique lacks the bulk of the different adults who had spent the final three weeks fishing right here. Most noticeably, his left ear is about half the measurement of his proper. It’s Lefty, a bear that till this day had solely been seen usually in late summer time and fall, and one I by no means had the alternative to watch earlier than.Lefty’s conduct that night strongly urged he had no vital expertise fishing the falls or interacting with its gathering of bears. The season was additionally younger sufficient that Brooks River was nonetheless the solely place to catch fish, so Lefty arrived hungry. He dashes from place to place, distracted by each fish that catches his look. He confronts virtually each bear with out regard to their place in the hierarchy. He strikes from the lip of the falls to the far pool, the place he encounters an older, almost 27-year-old feminine, 410, and promptly steals her salmon. Motivated by the success, he tries the identical transfer with 856, who just isn’t intimidated by the newcomer’s growling method. But the failure doesn’t cease his spree. Continuing on, he returns to 410’s neighborhood and steals one other of her salmon, then one from Otis, and one more from 410.He eats with vigor, consuming every salmon in a few massive gulps. Yet the few fish he’s gathered to this point aren’t almost sufficient to fulfill him. He strikes to the lip once more the place an grownup feminine had simply completed consuming her catch. He trades blows along with her after which forces her to slide over the fringe of the waterfall.Lefty has the lip to himself, however he appears not sure what to do subsequent. He weaves his head, pantomiming the motion of the salmon swirling in the pool under, and may need been ready to catch a few of the leaping salmon if he may have stood nonetheless, however he couldn’t. Looking down on the fish, he bobs his head upward as soon as, twice, then leaps off the waterfall into the pool under. Although unsuccessful, it’s a stomach flop for the ages.On July 20, I once more watch Lefty stroll to the lip. He locations his entrance paws on the cusp of the falls and . . . waits there patiently. Within a minute of arriving, he’s rewarded. He snaps his jaws shut on a leaping salmon.His centered routine developed shortly after his preliminary arrival, simply 5 days faraway from his incessant makes an attempt to steal fish and his frantic stomach flop. Ever since, Lefty has remained a expert and proficient angler on the lip, albeit with a continued look of pleasure and expectation. Adapted Excerpt from The Bears of Brooks Falls: Wildlife and Survival on Alaska’s Brooks River. Copyright © 2021 by Michael Fitz. Reproduced by permission of The Countryman Press, a Division of W.W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved.Read extra at The Daily Beast.Get our high tales in your inbox daily. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the tales that matter to you. Learn extra.