The Kodiak Bear
While many large animals in North America find their way to the endangered species list, the Kodiak brown bear is a success story in the management of wildlife. The Kodiak bear is healthy and productive throughout the archipelago and its population is actually increasing. In fact, the Kodiak bear population is at an historic high. According to Alaska Department of Fish & Game estimates, there are 3,500 bears on the Kodiak Archipelago. The vast majority of these bears live in the protected lands of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, which comprises two-thirds of the island.
The Kodiak bear is a subspecies of the brown or grizzly bear. Brown bears migrated to the Kodiak Archipelago from mainland Alaska about 12,000 years ago. As the climate warmed at the end of the last ice age, the sea level rose and the bears became an isolated population. They live exclusively on the islands of the Kodiak Archipelago.
Kodiak bears are the largest bears in the world. While they may grow to over 1,000 pounds, the average adult male weighs between 600-900 lbs.; females generally weigh about 30 percent less. Although Kodiak bears are often touted as the world’s largest carnivore, they are actually omnivores. Although fish is an important part of their diet, they eat more grass, plants and berries than meat and rarely expend the time or effort necessary to chase and kill animals.
Bears and humans have coexisted on the Kodiak Archipelago for almost 8,000 years. Ancestors of the Alutiiq people venerated and respected their island co-habitants and although they were hunted for food, clothing and tools, native hunters left the head in the field as a sign of respect to the spirit of the bears. Kodiak has a long history of bear hunting which continues today. Regulated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the hunting system is designed to keep bear populations at an appropriate level for the health and welfare of the species. Kodiak is fortunate to have one of the most successful and well-regulated hunting systems in the world.
For information about bear viewing, see Bear Viewing under Things to Do.