Bear dance?

A grainy still from the video of a bear face-off. See video below.

A bizarre video has emerged of what has been described as a Sunday “bear attack” along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage.

The shaky film taken by another walker on the popular route along the Cook Inlet coast starts with what appears to be a 200- to 250-pound black bear walking down the trail and encountering an unidentified woman who moves off the trail to seek safety behind a sign.

The bear stops, faces the woman, and the two proceed to dance around the sign.

Several times the bear reaches out in an effort to paw at the woman as she calmly maneuvers to keep the sign between them, and talks quietly to the animal. The bizarre encounter had to have been terrifying, but the bear is not particularly aggressive.

Its movements sometimes appear more like those of an oversize dog reaching out to someone in an effort to get petted than of a bear intent on an attack.

The Anchorage Police Department, which responded to the Sunday attack, has not identified the woman or provided any further details on what it called an attack, but a witness at the scene said the woman did not appear to have suffered any significant physical injuries.

Still, it is hard to believe such an encounter wouldn’t leave someone emotionally scarred.

A Monday request to the APD for more information produced the nonresponse which has become all-too-common when the agency’s public information officers are queried on something about which they don’t want to talk.

The existence of a video was first revealed by an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist, but the agency has since tried to hide the video from public view. When asked about details in it on Monday, a state biologist responded by demanding to know how had obtained a copy.

Why is unclear, but in recent years the state agency has launched a concerted effort to control the narrative around Alaska bear attacks.

After 44-year-old Eagle River resident Michael Soltis was in 2018 killed by a sow grizzly and its cubs in Eagle River, an Anchorage suburb, a Fish and Game spokesman repeatedly lied about the nature of the attack.

Then spokesman Ken Marsh, who later left the agency, insisted for weeks there was no evidence to support reports Soltis had been killed in a rare, predatory grizzly attack. Four weeks later, the agency finally admitted his body was found buried in a cache, and that another man mauled while searching for Soltis was within 10 or 20 yards of the cache when attacked. 

Caches are where grizzlies hide what they consider their “food.”  The animals are famously protective of what they consider their food. And grizzlies killing for food is considered the definition of a predatory attack.

Some of the agency’s actions are understandable.

Bear maulings are horrific – as one Alaska authority on the animals once observed, “bears don’t kill; they eat” – and obviously lead some to unnecessarily fear bears. But the attacks are, although rare, one of the realities of life in Alaska, and the latest encounter – though weird and disturbing – is far from horrific.

It is simply odd.

Were it all fake, as in this embedded advertising video of a fisherman taking a salmon away from a grizzly (click here) it would be funny, but it is not fake.

State wildlife biologists were reported to have gone looking for the bear after the encounter, but they have not reported finding any sign of it. The area where the encounter happened west of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is undeveloped, brushy and visited by any number of bears

The trail in the area of the encounter runs adjacent to the undeveloped, 32,500-acre Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, and ends in the city’s little-developed, 1,400-acre Kincaid Park. The development there consists primarily of winter ski trails and summer trails for hiking and mountain biking.

Nobody knows how many bears range through the area, but moose attacks have been a greater danger than bear attacks over the course of the last few years. The bears generally stay away from people, the moose less so and they can be unpredictable.

Sometimes they are amazingly calm, as was the case with this cow and calf featured in the embedded YouTube video shot by a mountain biker who went back to recover his bike after jumping off his bike in panic while riding in the park in June (click here), and they can be dangerously aggressive, as seen in the embedded video shot in the park in 2014 (click here).

Moose have injured far more people than bears in Kincaid and along the west Coastal Trail in Anchorage in recent years, but bears stir far more fear.




5 replies »

  1. Craig, since you have many years of experience with Alaskan wildlife and bears in particular I have two questions:

    1. Would you advise the woman dancing with the bear to have done anything differently?
    2. Would you advise the person filming to have done anything differently?

    Many thanks, Mark

    • 1. I would advise anyone approached by a black bear to act more aggressively when the bear is approaching. Once they got into that dance, she did the right thing in keeping the sign between them. I once did that with a cow moose in the spring up of the Denali Highway only the obstruction was a black spruce tree, not a sign. She almost stripped it of lower limbs while kicking at me before she finally calmed down and walked off. I can only guess that might have shortly before lost a calf to a bear. That sometimes seems to drive cow moose crazy.

      2. I’m confident that if the filmmaker and whoever else might have been there had charged the bear, it would have left. And the more the merrier in such a charge. Bears do not like to take on packs of anything.

  2. “… a state biologist responded by demanding to know how had obtained a copy.”

    Of course because any evidence that bears are not always violent towards people needs to be quickly suppressed. This bear was obviously just curious and not intent on attacking the individual, hence the narrative of bear attack is very misleading in this case. This was more of a bear encounter.
    I agree that moose are more unpredictable and dangerous to the average Alaskan. Look at the recent moose vs motorcycle fatality on the Glenn hwy.

  3. You’ve done it again, Craig. Excellent investigative reporting and analysis.
    Looks to me like a “city bear” scenario. That bear, among many others, has likely become habituated to people and the city environment. It has no fear of people, because they don’t get shot at. People feed them, both directly and indirectly. There might even be a Charlie Vandergaw clone right here in the Anchorage Bowl seeding his lawn with dog food and petting bears as they feed, and the authorities might even know about it like they did Vandergaw. ADFG and police are frustrated with the situation, have exhausted efforts to get the public to behave in perfected form, and know that a certain percentage of the public and certain percentage of the bears simply not going to muster up to their line. So, like governments everywhere and at all levels and in every era, their natural default is to keep secrets and deal with individual problems as best they can………until the disaster strikes……….like a fatal (or multiple) mauling.

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