If humpback whales are the prize of Alaskan seas, then brown bears or one of their sub-species are the highlight of inland wildlife seekers.
The term "brown bears" is used for several subspecies found in Alaska, the variance depending on their location. Bears habituating the Kodiak archipelago, or Kodiak bears, are considered a subspecies of their own, as they are fairly isolated from their mainland cousins.
Other browns populate the coastal regions off the Gulf of Alaska, and these, along with Kodiaks are generally slightly larger than their third cousin, the grizzly bear. This size difference is mainly due to diet. The coastal browns have ample supply of spawning salmon every year, whereas grizzlies' diet has to be a little more varied and is less predictable due to their inland habitat.
Because of the diet factors mentioned above Kodiak brown bears can grow as large as 1500 lbs (680 kg) and an adult grizzly living inland can be as light as 180 pounds (80 kg). A large grizzly, however, can reach the 600 pound range (272 kg).
The coloration of the brown bear in the Alaska region can range from very dark, to brown, to light blonde. The darker animals tend to be found on the coast and the lighter ones inland.
These bears are omnivores; that is, besides meat they also consume insects, vegetation, even honey. Vegetation might be cow parsnip, roots, grasses, sedges and berries. Prey can include salmon, ground squirrels and carrion. They are also capable of taking down caribou and moose, calves in particular.
The size of litter can range from 1 to 4, born in the den in January or February. Twins are most common and cubs emerging from the den weigh about 15 pounds (7 kg).
The oldest brown bear recorded in Alaska was a 39 year old female, the oldest male 38 years.
Brown bears' sense of smell is very keen, surpassing that of dogs; and their eyesight is not as poor as commonly thought. Both their sight and hearing is about the same as humans.
Their mobility, like other bear species, is remarkable, defying both their size and rotund body habitus. Over short distances they can reach speeds of 40 mph (64 km/h). They are also excellent swimmers.
Of course, observing these magnificent animals can be the highlight of any Alaska inside passage cruise excursion. Like we mentioned in our North American moose page, common sense and respect, and giving them their space are well-advised general rules. We strongly recommend using an accredited guide/tour group for maximizing your observation encounters.