The Brooks River in Katmai National Park, Alaska, is a world-famous site from which to view and photograph brown bears catching salmon at a small waterfall. Each year from late June until the end of July, salmon numbering in the hundreds of thousands run into the river! Midway up the river the salmon meet a six foot high waterfall known as Brooks Falls. As they mass in the pools beneath it and jump the falls, the salmon are vulnerable to bears.

The bears concentrate at the Falls where they compete for a chance to fish. Each bear must learn how to fit into the crowd of competing bears so that it gets enough food to prosper. For the largest dominant bears this process is simple. They consistently catch the most fish, more than three times what subadults catch and as much as twice what adult females and smaller males catch. The secret of success is controlling the best fishing spots. The bears feast on salmon which contains 4,600 calories, much of it in fat, the nutrient which bears can use most efficiently.

Like humans who fish, bears use many different methods to catch salmon. Some snorkel at the base of the falls and try to trap salmon between their front legs or catch a sluggish fish in their mouths. Others fish downstream, splashing around to drive the panicky salmon into shallow water where they are easier to catch. Sometimes a bear positions itself at the upper edge of the falls and catches a salmon in midair as the fish leaps up. Three or four fish may jump at once which can confuse the bear so much that he misses all of them!!!

Brooks River is a unique place where both bears and humans can interact peacefully. The peaceful coexistence of these two species at such high densities is amazing given the often desperate nature of the competition among the bears!!

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