While planning our Alaska vacation, I pictured Brooks Falls as bears snapping at leaping salmon. I know that bears eat to gain weight for winter hibernation, but I wasn’t quite ready for how the bears eat the salmon. At Brooks Falls, most bears eat the parts of the salmon with the most fat and nutrition, leave the rest, and go catch another salmon.
On our first morning at Brooks Falls, we woke early, had breakfast, and walked over a mile to the Falls. At 8:53 am, a bear was standing at the Falls. All photos in this post can be enlarged by clicking on the photo.
Three seconds later, the bear is smacked in the face by a leaping salmon. Recall that sockeye salmon can reach 7 kg.
Ten seconds later, the bear stops a salmon with its paw and secures the salmon in its jaws, as other salmon attempt to leap past the now-busy bear.
But the salmon escapes, only to be caught again.
The bear walked the salmon over to a flat area without rushing water. This series of photos shows what happened next.
At this point, the bear uses its long claws to hold down the head of the salmon while skinning the salmon and exposing the roe.
Now the bear can eat the belly skin and salmon roe.
After the bears eats the salmon roe, the skinned salmon flaps around, so the bear bites the salmon head. See the water splashes made by the struggling salmon.
The salmon continues thrashing as the bear bites its head. See the splashes made by the salmon as it tries to get away.
But the bear finally bit off the head of the salmon, and then it remained still. The bear then resumed eating the salmon roe. The time is 8:65 am — three minutes from the initial photo. This was our morning welcome to Brooks Falls.
Here’s another skinned fish flailing as the bear bites it in the head. People prize sockeye salmon for their rich, red meat, but most bears prefer the skin and roe, which are even richer.
For folks still interested, here’s a video of a bear stripping and eating the salmon skin and roe.
Bear sometimes kill the salmon before eating it. In the photo below, the bear caught the salmon and killed it by biting its brain off, before eating it. Killing the salmon first is more sure for the bear in deeper water, where the fish might get away. A gull watches, waiting for scraps.
Occasionally, a bear eats the salmon meat, not just the skin and roe. Shown below, Lerch, the older bear missing a right ear, ate the bones, meat, and skin starting from the tail .
Bears are pretty successful at catching fish. Watching salmon leaping and bears trying to catch them is more fun than seeing bears eating salmon.