Palmerville Adventures | About the Khutzeymateen Bears
The Khutzeymateen area is home to one of the largest concentrations of grizzly bears on the British Columbia coast. The sanctuary has been established primarily to protect the grizzlies known to range the area. Human activity in the park is strictly controlled.
Greg can identify many bears by sight. He has made up names to identify them and through keen observation has come to know some of their histories and habits. Greg explains that some sows (female bears) are more comfortable with human observers than others. These are the "old regulars" who may be readily observed from boats. They bring their cubs and yearlings to the beach to let them feed and play and teach them where to find food.
A major part of the grizzly bear diet is plant material. In the Khutzeymateen area they graze on sedges (the grass-like plants that grow in wet areas), sea barnacles and mussels found on the beaches, as well as the rich salmon runs that return to the inlet. The valley is productive, evidenced by the fact that some of the 50 grizzly bears which range in the area are estimated to weigh up to 1000 pounds.
Despite their bulky appearance, grizzly bears are amazingly agile. They can easily run at speeds of 53 km/hr (35 mph) in short bursts, and mothers protecting cubs have been clocked running at speeds over 60 km/hr (40 mph).
The hind paw print of a grizzly bears looks much like that of a human. Large prints may reach 30 cm (12 inches) and be as much as 15 cm (six inches) wide. Claws on a large male may reach 10 cm in length (four inches) and its canine teeth may be five cm long (two inches).
The front claws of a grizzly bears are only slightly curved, so that grizzlies are not as adept at climbing as black bears. Nevertheless, they do climb trees and there are documented cases of them having pursued humans as high as 5.5 m (18 feet).
Grizzly bears are also excellent swimmers. They have been seen diving to catch salmon, and observed to remain underwater for up to a minute.
Most grizzly bears are medium-brown in colour, but the colour of grizzly bear coats extends from dark brown to sandy blonde. It is the silver-tipped guard hairs scattered throughout its coat gives this species its grizzled appearance.
The word "grizzly" comes from the Old French term grisel, which means "grayish", a reference to the colour of the guard hairs. These hairs can be up to 10 cm (four inches) long. They provide a layer of protection, shedding rain and adding insulation.
Each year, grizzly bears shed their fur, usually between June and August. During this time they have a scruffy appearance. They go into hibernation around November and stay in their dens until about April. It is during this time that the cubs are born.
Cubs remain with their mother for two to three years. Grizzly bearsin North America live an average of 25 years in the wild.
Cubs will learn to eat sedges as early as four months, and throughout their lives a major source of nourishment will come from plant matter.
Females reach sexual maturity between 4-1/2 to 5 years of age and their litters average one-to-two cubs every three years. Litters with three cubs are not uncommon.