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Brown Bear Shot and Killed on Kodiak Island

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A brown bear sow was shot and killed at the Old Harbor landfill on Kodiak Island on Monday, orphaning four cubs. Alaska State Troopers say the sow was shot in defense of life and property (DLP). The community’s residents are no strangers to trouble with the area’s numerous bears.

Around noon on Monday, the Kodiak brown bear — classified as a distinct subspecies from mainland Alaska brown bears — was shot after it charged multiple people, troopers reported.

Prior to being killed, the mother bear dug under the landfill’s electrical fence, entered the dump and began eating trash, something she had been doing at the landfill for several months, said Kodiak trooper Sgt. Eric Olsen.

Old Harbor’s tribal council received grant money to erect the electrical fence — in some spots two layers of fencing. The bear deterrent has been up for about a year, but some bears, including the sow, have refused to let the obstacle stop them, Olsen said.

“It will take the bears a couple years to become accustomed (to the fence),” Olsen said.

Old Harbor’s Village Public Safety Officer, members of the small town’s tribe, and landfill workers hazed the bear in an effort to get it to stop. The safety officer on previous occasions had approached the bear in his patrol vehicle with the sirens blaring. At other times, the bear was shot with rubber bullets, Olsen said. The methods worked in the past, troopers reported.

U.S. Marine Corps personnel located in Old Harbor also helped try to stop the sow by using heavy equipment to place large rocks in the holes the bear dug under both fences and through gravel to get inside the landfill.

Despite all the efforts toward dissuasion, the bear repeatedly entered the landfill, according to troopers. On Monday, it charged locals, landfill employees and Marines who approached it with a Humvee. And a volunteer with the community’s “bear protection team” ended up shooting the sow.

“The locals know the behaviors of bears in the area; killing it was a last resort,” Olsen said.

In accordance with DLP shootings, the sow’s skull and hide have been sent to Fish and Game in Kodiak.

The sow was found to be “very emaciated with no layers of fat, and she was blind in one eye.” The cubs haven’t been spotted at the landfill since the shooting, troopers reported.

Kodiak brown bears generally raise two cubs each year, so the extra cubs as well as the bear’s health likely stressed the animal until it became dangerous, Olsen said. “It was malnourished. It wasn’t getting a proper diet from the trash,” he said.

The sergeant added the sow could have been coming to the landfill since it was a cub. Its mother may have brought it there, and the bear eventually taught its own cubs to use the dump as a food source.

Olsen recalled the Old Harbor’s long struggle with the area’s many bears — there’s approximately one bear per square mile on the island. In the early 2000s, he said, there were so many bears the locals wouldn’t let their kids go outside. Then, the community began to proactively protect itself from bears. It established the bear protection team, a group that works to keep the community safe from the brown bears, avoiding defense of life and property shootings as much as possible, Olsen said.

Source: Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy(at)alaskadispatch.com

Ancient Rockfish Caught in Alaska


Ten miles off the coast of southern Alaska, an insurance adjuster from Seattle caught a neon orange rockfish that is probably more than 100 years old.

The fish, a type of rockfish called a shortraker, was caught in 900 feet of water, weighed in at 39.08 pounds and is just under 41 inches long. It is the largest rockfish to have been caught by a recreational fisherman in this part of the world and it might be the oldest as well.

For those wondering why the fisherman Henry Liebman did not throw the ancient fish back into the sea immediately after catching it, the answer is that the fish was almost certainly dead by the time he reeled it in.

“When a rockfish caught in 900 feet of water is brought to the surface it usually dies,” said Julie Speegle, a spokeswoman for NOAA’s Alaska region, in an interview with the L.A. Times.

Rockfish have a gas-filled organ called a swim bladder that helps them control their buoyancy. When they are brought up to the surface, the gas in the bladder expands and can cause the bladder to burst, which can kill the fish.

Scientists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will determine the age of the fish later this week by slicing through its head and removing two small ear bones called otoliths that float in a cavity beneath the fish’s brain.

The otoliths have rings like a tree, and scientists can get a pretty good estimate of how old the fish is by counting these rings.

So far, the oldest shortraker on record is more than 150 years old.

Shortrakers live along the ocean floor at depths that range from 84 feet to 4,000 feet. They snack on crabs, shrimp and the occasional small squid.

These long-lived fish don’t become sexually mature until they are about 10 years old and often live to more than 50 years old.

“Their life strategy is to have babies year after year after year,” said Kristen Green, a ground fish biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “They might have some years where their larvae do really well, and some years where they don’t do well, but if they are reproducing for 50 years or more, they will definitely have some good years in there.”

While the fish pictured above is the largest shortraker to be caught by a sport fisherman off the coast of Alaska, it is not the largest shortraker to have ever been found. That record is held by a 62-pound giant caught by a commercial fishing net in the Bering Sea in 2007. Scientists say that fish is 95 to 115 years old. (And yes, they used the otolith method to determine its age.)

The mean size of shortraker fish in the inner waters of southeastern Alaska is just over 26 inches and 10.9 lbs, but Green said it is likely that commercial fisherman catch shortrakers over 40 pounds every day in their nets.

“There is always a feeling that it is sad when something this old is taken from the sea, but this is a drop in the bucket compared to what the commercial fisheries take,” Green said. “He just happened to be fishing at a really deep depth. Most recreational fisherman don’t fish that deep.”

Source:Deborah Netburn – latimes.com