Glacier Bears of Glacier Bay National Park – Gustavus, Alaska - Atlas Obscura

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Glacier Bears of Glacier Bay National Park

Gustavus, Alaska

A rare kind of blue bear can be found chiefly in the national park that shares their name. 


Bears come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. On their hind legs, they can be as tall as eleven feet or as short as four feet. Their bodies can be very round, very muscular, or very sleek. They can be brown, black, blonde, white, or blue. Yes, blue. 

American black bears actually come in all of the colors listed above. The white ones are called Kermode bears or spirit bears. The blue ones are glacier bears, or Ursus americanus emmonsii, and were first identified in 1895. Since black bears of all different colors can reproduce and thus create offspring that are heterogeneous with respect to fur color, it is possible that two black bears with black fur might produce a cub with blue fur.

Glacier bears are mostly found in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve as well as Tongass National Forest in Alaska, with occasional sightings in the capital city of Juneau. Their fur color ranges from silvery blue to grey, and tends to be darker closer to their bodies, terminating in white tips. The coloring is not always evenly distributed. They are among the most rare bears in the world, with little concrete information known about them or their numbers.

What is known is that they are pretty similar to other black bears: They favor forests, but follow the food supply; they are omnivores whose diets include roots, berries, salmon, and large mammals depending on the time of year; they average about six feet tall; they live an average of ten years; they breed in the summer and give birth in the winter; and they retreat to their den in early winter to hibernate.

People in towns near glacier bear ranges tend to have great affection for their unique ursine neighbors. They sometimes name sports teams after them and often set up hunting regulations to protect them, lest their rare and beautiful coats come to be considered prized trophies.

Know Before You Go

It is hard to get around Alaska, you will probably need a guide with a boat or helicopter to help you. Do not get too close to wild bears, no matter what color they are.

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