A grizzly bear mauling of a deer hunter in Southeast Alaska has brought to five the number of attacks reported in the northwest corner of the Alexander Archipelago since Aug. 7.
All of the attacks appear to have involved surprise encounters with bears at close range. None of the attacks are related. There are no indications the bears are targeting people.
But what can only be called a “bear-attack cluster” has heightened questions surrounding the possibility weak salmon runs in the ABC Islands – Admiralty, Baranof and Chichagof – have put the bears on edge.
The area is home to a large population of brown/grizzly bears, but five attacks in a time span of under two months is unprecedented.
The latest attack came near the village of Hoonah on Chichagof only about 40 miles north of the first attack. Most of the attacks appear to have involved sow grizzlies – commonly called brown bears in Alaska – protecting cubs.
The victim in the Hoonah attack has been identified as 30-year-old Josh Dybdahl of Hoonah. He is part of a well-known Southeast Alaska family. His sister is now the principal at Juneau-Douglas High School.
His brother, Anders, posted this description of what happened on his Facebook page:
“Josh and a friend were out hunting on two-day trip and were actually on their way down the mountain when Josh got between a mother Brown Bear and her two cubs. The bear was on my brother before he knew it and tried to fend it off. The friend then shot and killed the bear in fear they were still in danger.
“The friend, Anthony, then tended to Josh’s wounds which were bites on head, thigh and ass. He called for Coast Guard and they air lifted him to hospital in Juneau. Josh did have surgery to clean out the wounds and check for anymore internal damage. As of midnight eastern time Saturday night, Josh was in good spirits and wounds clean and on the mend for a full recovery. Not sure if anything else will have to happen, but will know more in the next few days.”
Alaska State Troopers identified Anthony as 36-year-old Anthony Lindoff of Juneau.
The U.S. Coast Guard, which picked up Dybdahl and Lindoff on Saturday told KTOO – the public radio station in Juneau, the state capital that the two hunters were “ambushed” by a bear while hiking in steep terrain.
“One hunter said they had to kill the mother to save their lives,” the station reported. “(Coast Guard Lt. Greg) Isbell said after the mother was killed it was still a tense situation.
“’The hunters had to continue to shoot warning shots at the other two bears to keep them away because they kept trying to close in while they waited (for) transportation,’ he said.”
The hunters’ description would indicate the “cubs” were two-year-olds, possibly three-year-olds. Cubs of the year generally weigh 100 pounds or less and are no real threat to people. But bear cubs will usually stay with their mother at least two years and sometimes three.
Two years old can weigh up to 200 pounds by fall, and three-year-olds even more. Both are capable of surviving on their own if they lose their mothers.
Dybdahl is reported to be recovering at Bartlett Memorial Hospital in Juneau after being picked up by a Sitka-based Coast Guard helicopter.
Why Southeast salmon runs faltered this year after years of strong runs is unclear, but there are indications of a shortage of food in the ocean or a heavy preadation when juveniles went to sea. That could explain why the fewer returning salmon were also larger than normal this year.
The theory is this:
If many young fry died soon after emerging from Southeast streams, there would be fewer old fry to feed on the pasture’s of the North Pacific later in the summer. That could ensure a better food supply for the survivors which would then grow bigger.
This is a developing story.