Katmai National Park and Preserve are without question, one of the most spectacular parks in the country for wildlife and landscape diversity. From the great brown bears and thousands of migrating, mating and nesting birds, to active volcanos, breathtaking glaciated mountains, and the unique diversity of tundra and old black spruce forests, every shift of light offers a new perspective.
Katmai National Park Wildlife Diversity
Established in 1918 and encompassing nearly 4.2 million acres in SW Alaska, is Katmai National Park & Preserve. There is an abundance of animal life within Katmai including; tundra swans, ducks, loons, grebes and arctic terns which migrate over 20,000 miles annually. There are grouse, ptarmigan, a plethora of sea birds and over forty types of songbirds that summer in the park. In the highest of tree tops, there are bald eagles, hawks, falcons and owls, while on the ground reside moose, caribou, red fox, wolves, lynx, wolverine, river otters, mink, marten, weasels, porcupine, snowshoe hares, red squirrels and beaver. Along the coastline there are sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters and occasionally beluga, killer and gray whales which use the Shelikof Strait as feeding grounds.
While this list is certainly not all-inclusive, it gives a good idea of the wide range of animals that call this park their home. Katmai is home to 29 species of land animals, 6 species of sea mammals, 150 species of birds and 28 species of fish, yet there is no other animal that so captivates the heart and imagination as the Alaskan Brown Bear.
While there are other brown bear populations around the world, and indeed in other parts of Alaska, none is so special or unique as the bear population within Katmai, and there is not much comparison to the thrill and experience of observing these bears first hand.
For the last several decades, hunting has only been allowed on a limited basis within the park and not at all within the Katmai National Park. This means that the majority of bears grow up having no fear of humans. This is not to say they are more aggressive towards people, rather, they are not as apt to run away because they don’t relate people with fear or bad experiences. In fact, bears learn from a very young age that people are indeed tolerable beings and are viewed with about as much interest as a passing seagull. Newborn cubs watch how their mothers interact with humans and when they see that they are generally calm and relaxed, take this as a precedence for which they will pass along to their own offspring.
With this being said, the bear viewing and photography opportunities within Katmai are phenomenal. As the bears are so habituated to the presence of humans, you can truly see the bears acting like bears in their natural environment. You will see them chasing, catching and eating wild salmon. You will see them sleeping, foraging for berries and swimming. You will see mother bears with two, three and even four small cubs and you will see constantly how the wild, beautiful bears interact with one another. You will watch newborn cubs learn the skills needed to survive as dangers are everywhere, and you will watch 2 year old cubs practice their skills, as they will be on their own by the end of the summer.
Despite the bear’s general good nature and indifference towards humans, it is still important to realize that these are very wild animals and should be respected as such. The guides at Big Ku always carry some form of protection, generally bear spray, and are experts at reading bear behavior and body language. In the lodge’s history, there have been no serious issues with bears and clients are given a bear safety speech prior to their first outing. For the most part human and bear peacefully coexist, often fishing side by side and enjoying the best Alaska has to offer.
Brown Bears average height: 7-9 feet long.
Males weight is approximately: 400 to 1,100 pounds
Females weight is approximately: 200 to 600 pounds
Birding in Katmai is on the 'bucket list’ for most birders. Katmai is home to approximately 150 species of birds, endemic and migrating, including tundra swans, ducks, loons, grebes and arctic terns which migrate over 20,000 miles annually. There are grouse, ptarmigan- our colorful State Bird, a plethora of sea birds and over forty types of songbirds that summer in the park. In the highest of tree tops, there are bald/golden eagles, hawks, falcons and owls. There is no shortage of bird drama in front of the Big Ku Lodge, in any season.
Emersion into the environment of the world famous wild Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon run, you’ll find, ultimately shapes both the environment and your stay at the Big Ku Lodge.
What makes this area special and the wildlife so prolific, is the great salmon migration. Each year, millions upon millions of sockeye salmon descend upon the Bristol Bay drainages, not least of which are the Kvijack, Alagnak and Naknek. The main goal of these salmon is to run up streams and through lakes until they find their native waters in which they will spawn along the shoreline and in the tributaries of the lakes. Each female sockeye will lay approximately 2,500 to 4,500 eggs depending on her size and water conditions. Then, mid winter and early spring these eggs begin to hatch and tiny fry emerge. In May and continuing into July, these hatchling salmon will begin to move downstream. Many of the fry will become food for hungry rainbows, lake trout, dollies, char and grayling. After spawning, the adult sockeye will have completed their life cycle and die.
Along the path of the salmon migration and life cycle, you can attribute hundreds (probably thousands) of other wild species of plants and animals who directly depend on the salmon and the cycle of nutrients it brings to the expansive environment.
Salmon are the lifeblood of Alaska, without which the fishery could not exist and the bears and wildlife would not thrive as they do.