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What Is a Kodiak Bear?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A Kodiak bear is a brown bear that lives in the Kodiak Archipelago in the Gulf of Alaska. It is the largest of the brown bear species found only on Kodiak Island and nearby islands on the southwestern coast of Alaska. The Kodiak bear lives fairly isolated with an abundant food supply that accounts for its large size. It is also called the Alaskan brown bear.

These bears grow almost as large as polar bears, with adult males standing about 5 feet tall (1.5 m) when walking on all fours. Kodiak bears might stand more than 10 feet tall (3 m) when upright. They typically weigh between 800 and 1,500 pounds (363 and 680 kg) in the wild, while those living in captivity can weigh much more. Female bears weigh about 30 percent less than males and are smaller in stature. These bears live between 20 and 40 years.

Kodiak bears might feed alone or with others. Their main source of food consists of salmon. This nutritious food supplies the fat needed to survive through the harsh winters of the region. The Kodiak bear supplements its diet with berries, nuts, seaweed, and invertebrates. It seems to prefer eating vegetation to killing animals for food.

When the male Kodiak bear is about five months old, it is ready to breed. Sows typically do not bear offspring until they are about nine years old. Breeding usually begins between May and July, with cubs born during the hibernation period, which runs from January until March.

As the weather grows colder, pregnant sows go into hibernation first, usually in dens located in mountainous areas. Adult males are the last to hibernate and the first to emerge in the spring. Studies show about one-fourth of males never hibernate at all.

A sow will bear one or two cubs, which weigh less than a pound (0.4 kg) at birth and are born blind. One distinctive feature of offspring includes a white ring around the neck that remains for several years. By the time spring arrives, cubs might have grown to 20 pounds (9 kg). They typically rely on their mothers for the first two or three years of life. Females give birth about every four years.

A Kodiak bear resembles a grizzly bear, with notable differences. The Kodiak bear is larger and features a wider face. It is covered in shaggy hair that grows longer than hair on a grizzly. The fur ranges from almost blond to a chocolate color. A Kodiak bear’s claws are always visible protruding from flat feet, and a small tail helps identify this bear when compared to the grizzly bear.

This species is protected by the U.S. government, along with its habitat of forests, rivers, and coasts. Kodiak bear hunting is permitted, but strictly regulated to preserve the number of bears in the wild. Obtaining a hunting license for one of these bears is considered quite expensive, and fewer than 200 bears are typically killed each season.

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Discussion Comments
By mobilian33 — On Jan 11, 2015

@Animandel - Bear attacks are not common. The reason we hear as much about them as we do is because they make good news stories. I imagine Kodiak bear attacks are less common because the bears are not often around people and they have plenty to eat in the wild.

By Feryll — On Jan 11, 2015

@Animandel - Hunters are at greater risk than the average person out for a walk in the woods in some cases. When a hunter has made a kill and he is carrying the animal, a predator like a Kodiak bear might get of whiff of the fresh kill and hone in the source.

Bears can sense food from miles away, and the smell of the blood of a freshly killed animal is hard for a hungry bear to resist. A hungry bear is not going to let a hunter get between him and a meal.

By Drentel — On Jan 10, 2015

@Animandel - Adult bears are large animals. They are not in the habit of backing down from any other animal. The articles says that Kodiak bears live in fairly isolated areas, so they probably have less fear of humans and less knowledge of them so this could also explain why they might be more likely to attack hunters.

However, I have seen black bears get very aggressive towards people. This is especially true when a female bear thinks her cubs are in danger and when the bears are feeding, or when they are hungry and looking for food. Stay away from any wild bear regardless of whether it is a black bear or a grizzly bear. One can be as deadly as the other.

By Animandel — On Jan 09, 2015

I was listening to the radio on my drive to work and I heard a story about a Kodiak brown bear attacking two hunters. Most of the brown and black bears I have seen and heard about are not particularly aggressive. Are Kodiak bears more likely than other bears to attack a person?

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