Brown Bear Starvation in Kamchatka

Roie Galitz

Brown Bear Starvation in Kamchatka

Kamchatka, in the Russian far east, is filled with primal nature and landscape, it is also the second largest spawning site of Salmon in the World, after Alaska. The Brown Bears are arriving in the hundreds to lake Kuril, part of the South Kamchatka Sanctuary, to feed on the Salmon and gain enough fat for the winter's hibernation and without it they won't survive the harsh winter's conditions of this remote land.

Although 2017 was an excellent year for Salmon and provided the bears with excellent feeding opportunities with high bear cub survival rate, 2018 was the complete opposite. The Salmon didn't arrive and the bears are starving. The researchers predict high mortality rate in this winter season.

The causes for the Salmon decrease are partly changing climate and precipitation patterns along side with over fishing in the Okhotsk sea and northern Japan sea.


Millions of Sockeye Salmon swim upstream to Lake Kuril in southern Kamchatka, there they wait until they are ready to spawn and then they race up the little stream while avoiding the hundreds of bears to lay their eggs and fertilize them.
The Brown Bear is Surrounded with Salmon, and they are keeping their distance. For him, it’s an “All You Can Eat Buffet” and he sits perfectly still, waiting for the right moment when one of the Salmon is getting close enough for him to charge. At this time of the year, the bears are in a state of Hyperphagia, meaning they are always hungry and each bear can eat as many as 40 Salmon each day, to gain enough weight for the winter’s hibernation.
From a young age, the little bear cubs are fighting for their Salmon, as they know its importance to their survival. As the young cubs were playing with a dead Salmon they found, other cubs from another family got greedy and tried stealing that fish. The two mothers ran quickly to separate the fight and starting fighting furiously each other. finally, the two families backed down.
Mother Bear is feeding her young cubs with nutritious Salmon, as well as breastfeeding them, They almost never stop eating. The little ones must grow fast and fatten up before the tough winter arrives.
The young Brown Bear eagerly watches the Salmon his mother's eating. If there won’t be enough food for the whole family, the mother will eat for herself, knowingly increasing her chances of survival while decreasing her cub’s chances. Without the mother, the cubs will surely die and if the mother lives on, she can conceive next spring.
With very few Salmon around, each bear catching anything is immediately a target of attack by other bears who are trying to still their catch. Another reason for the intensive fights is for the best spots where the Salmon might try to swim upstream.
The Alpha male has a hold of the one spot where the Salmon gather up, and the other bears travel around Lake Kuril, searching for other spots with less danger by bigger bears. The bears walk many kilometres each day in that search, wasting more valuable energy in hope of finding those spots that will assure their survival. The Ilyinsky volcano appears in the background, as this entire land is volcanic.



Mother bear and her three cubs walk on the shores of lake Kuril, in search of the best hunting spots to catch the Salmon. The small cubs will suffer the most, as they are vulnerable to the cold and lack the fat that will protect and provide energy when food is scarce. Scientists predict that many of these cubs won’t survive to next spring.

Thin Bears are walking around the lake. All doing so in false hope that the Salmon will show up around the corner. As the Autumn approaches, more and more reports of thin bears are being heard. This situation is not normal for Kamchatka’s promising lakes.
Starving Bears are the final stage of this terrible process, when they too hungry to hunt. These “ghost” like bears walk around the shallow streams, searching for some leftovers or anything that will supply their hunger.

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