Alaska Bear Project: Year Five

Now in its fifth year (and counting), the Alaska Bear Project continues to build momentum. Working in collaboration with Professor Tom Quinn from the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, Professor Aaron Wirsing just returned from Bristol Bay, Alaska, where researchers have been non-invasively studying brown bears hunting along six sockeye salmon spawning streams since 2012. Thus far, they’ve collected more than 2,000 hair samples for genetic analysis using barbed wires strung across the streams, and detected 121 individual bears.

Professor Aaron Wirsing, left, and Professor Tom Quinn on the tundra near one of their bear wires on Whitefish Creek.

Professor Aaron Wirsing, left, and Professor Tom Quinn on the tundra near one of their bear wires on Whitefish Creek.

This year, for the first time, they’ve also been collecting video using motion-activated trail cameras deployed in conjunction with the wires, and elsewhere, on each stream. They’ll be analyzing the videos to explore bear behavioral responses to the wires (e.g., do they learn to avoid them?), and to track the timing and location of different bear behaviors, including foraging and traveling. Working with Anne Hilborn, a doctoral student in Professor Marcella Kelly’s lab at Virginia Tech, they’re also using the videos as a means to better communicate their work and findings to the public.

Below, check out one of their videos from this summer, which provides a great example of the type of footage they’re collecting: a brown bear mother passing by with two cubs!

Photo © Blakeley Adkins; video © Aaron Wirsing.

Grizzly Mom with Two Cubs