This article was originally published by Alaska magazine and is reprinted here with permission.
While people are away, the critters will play—and eat, meander by, maybe even scratch their back on a tree. Via a bear cam, walrus cam, and others around Alaska, wildlife watchers can get their fill, especially during summer, when many of the remote cams offer live feeds. During winter, they run highlights. Seeing and hearing the day-to-day behavior of Alaska’s fauna through these lenses is the next best thing to being there in person. Here are a few of the best.
Alaska Bear Cam
In western Alaska’s Katmai National Park, the Brooks Falls Brown Bears cam at explore.org focuses on a section of river where bruins congregate each summer to catch salmon on their way upstream to spawn. Up to 400,000 sockeyes leap past the six-foot-high natural barrier every season, surviving the gauntlet of hungry bears that stand in the swiftly flowing water snapping their jaws and swiping platter-sized paws.
July is prime-time bear watching here, but you might catch them anytime between mid-spring and mid-fall trying to fill their enormous bellies. In fact, there’s even an annual tournament called Fat Bear Week that celebrates the mammals’ success at Brooks River. Each October, viewers get to vote on their choice for the fattest bear—the 2020 winner was one dubbed 747 after his jumbo jet bulk; estimates of his weight topped 1,400 pounds. Former park ranger Mike Fitz got the idea for the contest in 2014 after he noticed how fascinated people were when one viewer compared mid-summer photos of a particular bear to images taken in the fall. Fans were awestruck at how much the animal had grown in a few short weeks.
Nearby Katmai cams
Check out webcams near the bear cam and learn more about the Brooks Falls bears at nps.gov/katm, or search “Alaska” on explore.org/livecams. Don’t miss one called Underwater Salmon Cam—watch live in season or scroll through off-season highlights to see brown bears from a fish’s point of view.
Alaska Walrus Cam
While webcams excel at showcasing visuals and sounds, it’s probably a good thing we can’t smell the walruses hauled out on the beach at Round Island. Pungent odors emanate from herds, especially of two-ton males, when they gather, sometimes by the hundreds, and snore, fart, sneeze, and rest en masse. Their diet of clams, snails, worms, sea cucumbers, and tunicates likely gives their breath a unique ocean-floor funk.
Round Island lies about 100 miles east of Unalaska in the Aleutians and is part of a larger state game sanctuary. Visitor access to this off-the-beaten-path escape is restricted but possible with a permit—or you could mosey on over to the Pacific Walrus Beach webcam at explore.org. Experience live action during the summer months or live cam highlights the rest of the year for a continuous cacophony of strange muttering groans, breathy chuffing, disgruntled half-roars, and lapping waves. The portly pile of bulbous blimps covers the cove, lying blubbery side by blubbery side, tusk to tail, flipper to face, and individuals lounge around at water’s edge, jostling for the best spot.
Snowy Owl Cam
Highlights from the Arctic Snowy Owl – Nesting Cam on explore.org show an adult with fluffy gray chicks, an arctic fox leaping around and around an adult owl that appears to be defending a nest, and an owl bringing a nesting adult a small rodent for food. All this happens on the tundra just outside Utqiagvik on Alaska’s northernmost shore. The webcam is part of the Owl Research Institute’s long-term study on snowy owl and brown lemming breeding ecology. A nonprofit based in Montana, ORI focuses on owl and wildlife research, conservation, and education.
Like many wild species, snowy owl populations rise and fall, and when prey availability is low, the owls don’t nest and might even move to other areas. Last summer at this site, ORI’s Snowy Owl Senior Researcher Denver Holt located 15 owls, all males, and no nests. Lemming numbers were also very low. Researchers hope there will be nesting owls this summer to show on the webcam. And with 20-plus hours of light each day from early May to early August, viewers can tune in anytime from anywhere around the world and see what’s happening.
Bald Eagle Cam
The City of Kenai operates a live cam at a bald eagle nest; the view is from above looking directly down onto the solidly constructed mass of sticks and grass, about four or five feet across. Though the pair didn’t use it in 2019, they returned last summer. The eagles laid the first egg on April 22 and the second one on April 25. Egg number one hatched on May 31 and the second on June 2.
All summer, viewers watched the eaglets grow from scrawny, helpless babies whose necks wobbled and bobbed like wildflowers in the wind until the two built strength. A few weeks in, the chicks, their feathers getting darker as they grew, sat quietly each day while mom or dad was off securing the next meal. At some point, one of the chicks fell from the nest and was presumed dead. That is the harsh reality of nature, but concerned admirers discussed the topic in the comments section for days.
The adult eagles often returned without food, but when they did have morsels to share, it was typically bits of gull or other bird, or pieces of salmon. Once, in late July, the adult female landed with a lamprey eel clutched firmly in her talon. About 15 inches long, the eel, which is actually a type of fish, slowly writhed as she pecked at it for several minutes and the remaining chick looked on. (To see footage of the lamprey lunch and check for current activity, visit the City of Kenai’s YouTube channel.) Eventually, the parent offered bits of the meal to its offspring, who eagerly grabbed morsels from the adult’s beak.
Late in the summer, the chick fledged, and the nest once again sat empty.