ABOVE: WWU grad student Ian Gill observes McNeil River's brown bears in their native environment as part of his study on bear/salmon dynamics.
BELLINGHAM – Western Washington University graduate student Ian Gill spent his summer researching the predator-prey dynamic between grizzy bears and the chum salmon up close and personal in the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary on Alaska’s Cook Inlet, in an effort to understand the factors affecting the success of individual bears, how they learn, and how this interaction affects the health of both populations.
Gill, a native of
“This is one of the most pristine wildlife viewing areas in the world,” said Gill. “To even get to the platform, you have to win a permit lottery, and visitors get four days of observation, all while in attendance with an Alaska Fish & Game employee. Because these bears have never been fed, never been shot at or molested in any way, they view observers as neutral entities. Since the program started in 1975, there hasn’t been a single bear attack.”
Gill had plenty of opportunity to test this theory over the summer, with as many as 48 grizzlies at once fishing in the falls next to his gravel pad.
“This is the largest naturally occurring seasonal congregation of brown bears in the world – so it’s an incredible chance to do this kind of research,” he said.
What brings the bears to
“Physical factors like river flow play an important role in determining how many fish are caught. We’re also interested in understanding what makes some bears catch more fish than others. How does social dominance play a part in the selection of fishing locations or techniques, and lastly, how do these factors affect the two populations?” said Gill.
Gill and his advisor, WWU Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Jim Helfield, are collating Gill’s data in an effort to start finding some answers to those questions, and both say they hope to seek out grant funding to allow a second summer’s worth of observational data at
For more information on Gill’s project, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.