Black bears are the most numerous, most widespread and most adaptable of North America's three bear species, and are one of two prominent bear species to be seen on an Alaska inside passage cruise along with browns (polar bears are the third but are confined largely to the northern sections).
We have a much healthier respect for
bears in the 21st century than decades ago. Gone are the days when
tourists would bring food to our national parks to "feed the
bears" or watch them sift through man-made garbage piles, with
the resultant log-jam of traffic from such activities. Though this
was rarely a problem in untamed Alaska, the movement to keep North
America's bears wild has been good for both bears (and humans), and
particularly for blacks due to overlapping habitats with humans.
Adult male black bears in most of North America weigh between 130 and 310 pounds (60 to 140 kg.), females between 90 and 155 pounds (40 to 70 kg). However, in Alaska it is believed adult males can weigh as much as 500 pounds (227 kg).
A common misconception concerning black
bears is human encounters with sow and cubs. While it's always good
to give any bear with cubs lots of space, a mother black would prefer
to retreat with her young rather than confront humans. A grizzly, on
the other hand, will aggressively defend her cubs.
In Alaska their habitat covers most of
the southern sections of the state, except the island regions like
the Seward Peninsula, Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Kodiak, Montague,
Hinchinbrook, the Alaska Peninsula, Admiralty, Baranof, Chichagof,
Their diet is quite varied and can
include berries, young ungulates (moose, deer, etc.), roadkill, acorns, garbage, insects such as ants and
termites, grass, fish, clams, honey and even in the south, crocodile
eggs. And of course in Alaska they can be seen fishing the salmon
runs (while keeping their distance from browns).
The mating season for blacks is usually
May to early July. Litters of two or three, and sometimes up to five,
are born in January; toothless, blind, and covered in fine dark hair.
Cubs emerge from the den in April
weighing about ten pounds. They spend their first summer with mother through to the following summer, before venturing off on their own.
There is debate as to whether black bears are true hibernators like woodchuks or bats, due to their minimal temperature drop in the den. Their heart-rate can drop as low as eight beats per minute, but also increase to 100 beats per minute while nursing cubs.
While in the den sows don't eat, urinate or defecate, and are able to convert urea to protein, allowing them to maintain muscle mass during the winter sleep.
Color variations can include cinnamon,
gray or blue, which can all occur in the same litter, even from a sow
with black fur.
Life span is usually about 20 years,
but sometimes can be as long as 30.