Katmai National Park

Wildlife Viewing
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Bears: Brown bear congregate along the Brooks River to feed on sockeye salmon. Two bear-viewing platforms are located along the river. Although a bear may be encountered anywhere in Katmai from late May into December, the best times for bear viewing at Brooks Camp is in July and September. There are few bears, if any, around Brooks in June and August, though they are seen occasionally during these times. July and September are crowded with both bears and people.

Katmai is bear habitat, and they always have the right-of-way. Delays in getting to and from the bear-viewing platforms are common and can occur at any time, although such delays offer opportunities for viewing other wildlife and the spectacular scenery all around Brooks Camp. The Brooks Falls bear-viewing platform has a maximum capacity of 40 persons at a time. During times of high usage, visitors must check in at the lower bear-viewing platform before going to the Falls platform. Visitors are also limited in how long they may remain at the Falls during these times. Weather and bears are always a factor at Katmai, so plan extra time to work around delays.

People may not intentionally approach or remain within 50 yards of a single bear, or 100 yards of a sow (female) with cubs, except when on the bear-viewing platforms. Inadvertent encounters do happen. Clapping hands, singing, or loudly and repeatedly saying "Hey Bear" prevents most of these encounters. "Bear Bells" and other noise-making devices are not as effective. The purpose of clapping and singing is to let bears know you are human and in the area, not to scare them or change their direction of travel.

If a "too close" situation does occur, do not run from a bear or make direct eye contact. Wave your arms and speak firmly to the bear while slowly backing away, letting the bear know you are neither a threat nor possible prey. If the bear continues in your direction, move off into the woods at least 50 yards (100 yards from a sow with cubs) until the bear leaves the area.

Capsicum bear spray is not allowed on commercial airlines and has not proven very effective in situations likely to occur at Brooks Camp. Bear spray may not be taken within the cabins of air taxis. Let your pilot know if you are carrying bear spray so it can be placed in the floats of the plane. No firearms of any kind are allowed within the National Park, except when carried by authorized National Park Service designated personnel as part of their official duty. Pets are not allowed in Brooks Camp, or within five miles of Brooks Camp due to the high concentration of brown bears and people. Bears and pets do not do well in close proximity. Pets are allowed elsewhere in Katmai National Park and Preserve; however, individual lodges and air taxis may limit or prohibit pets.

Salmon: A predictable eruption occurs here annually as salmon burst from the northern Pacific Ocean and into Park waters. Sockeye or red salmon return from the ocean where they have spent two or three years. By a homing mechanism they return to the exact headwater gravel beds of their birth. Their size averaging five to seven pounds varies proportionally to how long they spend feeding at sea.

The salmon run begins in late June. By July's end a million fish may have moved from Bristol Bay into the Naknek system of lakes and rivers. Salmon stop feeding upon entering freshwater, and physiological changes lead to the distinctive red color humped back and elongated jaw they develop during spawning. The salmon spawn during August, September and October. Stream bottoms must have the correct texture of loose gravel for the eggs to develop. The stream must flow freely through winter to aerate the eggs. By spring the young fish, called smolt, emerge from the gravels and migrate into the larger lakes living there two years. The salmon then migrate to sea returning in two or three years to spawn and begin the cycle once again.

Birds: Katmai's lake edges and marshes serve as nesting sites for tundra swans, ducks, loons, grebes and that 20,000-mile annual commuter, the arctic tern. Sea birds abound along the coast, grouse and ptarmigan inhabit the uplands and some 40 songbird species summer here. Seacoast rock pinnacles and treetops along lakeshores provide nesting sites for bald eagles, hawks, falcons and owls.

Other animals: Moose live throughout the coastal and lake regions, feeding on willows, water plants and grasses. Other mammals include the caribou, red fox, wolf, lynx, wolverine, river otter, mink, marten, weasel, porcupine, snowshoe hare, red squirrel and beaver. Along the coast are sea lions, sea otters, and hair seals with beluga, killer and gray whales sometimes using the Shelikof Strait.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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