Kodiak Bears on the Dog Salmon River | BrainerdDispatch.com | Brainerd, Minnesota

Kodiak Bears on the Dog Salmon River

Nature's circle of life revealed on Kodiak Island

Posted: July 20, 2012 - 5:58pm
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Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch With a freshly caught Sockeye Salmon in her mouth, a mother feeds her cub on the shore of the Dog Salmon River.
Steve Kohls/Brainerd Dispatch With a freshly caught Sockeye Salmon in her mouth, a mother feeds her cub on the shore of the Dog Salmon River.

FRAZER LAKE, Alaska — The mystique of the Kodiak bear is legendary. Their large heads are what locals say separates them from other grizzlies. Kodiak bears are a subspecies of the brown or grizzly bear and reach well over 1,000 pounds. Numbering 3,500 who live in the Kodiak Archipelago, the bears have been isolated from the mainland for thousands of years.

Every summer they come from their dens in the mountains above the streams to fish. Most of the bear’s diet is plants but when the salmon run, it’s time to stock up on protein for the winter. When the bears gather on the streams the posturing begins with 2-year old cubs being the lowest on the pecking order and the big boars at the top. Among the boars, which can reach 10 feet tall, superiority is based on strength, fighting for the best position to fish. With the bears, come the eagles and magpies fighting for the scraps of fish. Creeping along the bank are fox who depend on the fresh fish kills to feed their litters. Similar to a water hole in Africa, a lagoon full of spawning fish is an active place to witness nature’s circle of life.

Rugged, pristine and relatively treeless, Kodiak Island’s southwest end is home of the Frazer Lake Fish Weir. In the 1950s fisheries biologists noticed that salmon could not reach the top of falls on the Dog Salmon River so Frazer Lake, at the top of the falls, remained barren of salmon. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game transplanted sockeye eggs and fry into the lake. In 1956, the salmon returned to spawn but could not make it up the high falls. A fish pass was constructed in the 1960s and the fish could swim up the ladder back into the lake. When the fish gather at the fish weir, fisheries biologists monitor and measure the sockeye as they pass into the lake above the lagoon. Fish counts range from 70 to 3,000 per day.