Brown bears on Kodiak Island are classified as a distinct subspecies from those on the mainland because they are genetically and physically isolated. They even look different than their mainland relatives – the shape of their skulls is different and they tend to be larger on Kodiak Island, lending this subspecies its mythic reputation. Brown bears are much bigger than black bears, and seen side-by-side, it’s easy to tell them apart, even though both species come in a variety of colors, from black to light brown. Brown bears are also known as grizzlies, and these are the bears that are usually featured in Hollywood movies and in popular imagery of bears.


Brown bears are found throughout Alaska, and it’s easier to say where they aren’t than where they are. They aren’t on the islands south of Frederick Sound in the Inside Passage, the islands west of Unimak in the Aleutian Chain and the islands of the Bering Sea. They are often spotted swimming from island to island, particularly in the Inside Passage, fishing along streams and rivers, and rooting for berries, bugs and small mammals along the flanks of mountains.


Brown bears may spend from five to nearly eight months in dens. In areas with warmer winters like Kodiak Island, a few bears may stay active all winter. Pregnant females are usually the first to enter dens in the fall and, with their newborn cubs, are the last to exit dens. Adult males, on the other hand, appear to enter dens later and emerge earlier than most other bears.