A photo safari turned into a close encounter with a charging coastal bear for a group of tourists in Alaska. On June 22, tour company Scenic Bear Viewing posted footage to Instagram of a brown bear charging the guided group. While it is unclear where exactly this encounter took place, the Homer-based tour operator takes trips to Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks in southwest Alaska.
At first, the footage focuses on a large brown bear, then pans to a second bear strolling along the sand. This bear doesn’t seem to pay much attention to the group. But then some commotion happens off-screen and people start yelling. The camera swings back to focus on the original bear, which is now charging toward the group at full speed, pounding through the pools in the sand. The lead guide motions to the group to make noise, and a chorus of chants strikes up behind the camera.
Initially the bear doesn’t seem deterred, but the guide holds his ground. At the last moment the bear veers off, slowing its pace and button-hooking. The guide takes a few aggressive steps toward the bear while barking and yelling. This move sends the bear running in the opposite direction. The bear got within roughly 15 yards of the tourists and maybe 10 yards of the guide.
Standing your ground when any type of bear bluff charges is crucial, according to the National Park Service. Running away can trigger the bear’s chase instincts. How you react during a bear attack, however, depends on the species. The NPS also advises, somewhat confusingly, that “if a grizzly/brown bear charges and attacks you, PLAY DEAD.” The distinction between a bluff charge and a true charge can be a matter of yards in some cases.
On first glance, this tour group doesn’t seem to be behaving differently than some of the Yellowstone “tourons” we’ve covered recently. They’re standing extremely close to the first bear in the video, much closer than the 50-yard rule at Katmai National Park, which stipulates that “people are prohibited from approaching bears within 50 yards.” Other footage on the Instagram page shows cubs coming within a few feet of the group while the sows look on from afar.
Brown bears can run upwards of 30 miles per hour, which means they’d close that distance in just a few seconds. Still, this behavior is typical of photo tours in the area, and groups of people are generally safe in bear country. And while Yellowstone tourons are mostly first-timers who don’t know Old Faithful from a hole in the ground, these tourists were accompanied by a guide who reacted decisively.
“We have been doing this for years and love it,” Scenic Bear Viewing writes in the video caption. “We are trained exactly for this situation. In this area the bears have been visited by humans for over 30 years. It’s [a part] of [their] daily lives in the summer to see us … There has never been an attack. We follow a strict set of rules while guiding and bring protection.”
Grizzly bears and brown bears are technically the same species, Ursos actos. Brown bears live in coastal regions and have more marine-based diets, while grizzly bears live inland. Brown bears also tend to get bigger than grizzly bears.