Collar-cam videos provide grizzly bear's view of Alaska

Dan Joling | Associated PressAssociated Press
State biologists remove an old collar and put one of the new collar cameras on a bear in mid-May 2011. This photo is made by a helmet-cam worn by one of the biologists.
Photo by ADF&G
In early June, a collar-cam video catches a sow playing with its cub.
Photo by ADF&G

Grizzly Boar 6041 had a busy day on May 26.

The 700-pound, 10-year-old Alaska bear woke up at 3:17 a.m. as the sun peeked out beneath gray skies. Within 15 minutes, he was attempting to impregnate a willing sow. Then it was off to eat fish, swim, rip meat off a moose carcass, attempt more bear sex with a different female and walk for miles over tundra.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game knows this because it's recorded on video. The department this week released a 13-minute compilation of 20-second clips taken by a prototype video camera mounted on a collar placed on Boar 6041, part of a study of bear behavior on the east side of the Talkeetna Mountains.

Division of Wildlife regional supervisor Bruce Dale watched clips from the pilot video program and found it hard to pull away.

"When you flipped it on, there would be a bear, and it would be basically on a march, just lined out, busting through the brush, not ambling around the trail and stopping to sniff the flowers. This bear was going somewhere," Dale said. "And then your 10 seconds are up. So you really want to click on the next one to find out where that doggone bear is going."

The department spelled out the video program in its online monthly magazine, Alaska Fish and Game News.

Collars were placed on bears as part of a study of bears' effect on the moose population, and the effect of liberalized hunting on bears.

Up to 85 percent of moose calves in the study area do not live to autumn. Most are killed by grizzlies, according to the department. However, some bears have never been detected at kill sites when tracked with traditional satellite collars. Biologists want to find out if they have another source of protein, and whether less predatory behavior has an effect on body size, condition, and offspring, Dale said.

In the pilot project, biologists put camera collars on four bears known to prey on ungulates: the boar, a lone sow, and two sows with single cubs. The cameras on the sows with cubs eventually failed, likely damaged by the youngsters wrestling with their mothers.

The cameras recorded nearly 12,000 segments over a month. Biologists are matching footage to GPS data.

Videos from three bears were recorded in 10-second segments. The department posted nine clips showing bears playing, swimming, eating and meeting other bears.

Boar 6041 wore a camera that recorded 20-second clips. Fitted with a collar in spring 2007, he has a range of about 44 miles east to west and 33 miles north to south.

Over the month with the video collar, he bred with at least three sows and racked up a number of kills -- moose and caribou calves, a hare, a beaver and another adult bear.

The 13-minute clip was taken from 100 separate videos shot May 26.

After his early-morning romance, he made his way to a lake to gorge on winter-kill fish, then pawed at the water, possibly pulling up submerged carcasses. The camera was off from 6 a.m. to noon, but when it switched on, he went for a swim in an icy lake.

At 3 p.m., he fed off a moose carcass. He bred again 45 minutes later. For all of the boar's promiscuity, however, there's not much to the mating scenes in a short clip. It's more like bear nuzzling.

At 4:15, he stopped to sniff bear scat. A half hour later, he was back on a moose carcass. At 5:45 p.m., he rested for about five hours. He started up again at 10:16, approached another bear at 10:31 -- possibly one of the sows he met earlier. He ate again at 11 and bedded down at 11:30 p.m.

Dale said the department is evaluating further use of video collars and will consider using them on bears that have not been spotted at kill sites.

"It does seem to be a pretty powerful tool," he said.

Coller-cam: A day in a bear's life

Video courtesy Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Associated Press