Watch: Black Bear Defends Cub Against Brown Bear in Alaska

The altercation occurred in a part of southeast Alaska where black and brown bear habitat tend to overlap. USFS.

U.S. Forest Service (USFS) officials have captured a rarely seen bear encounter in the Tongass National Forest of southeast Alaska. Footage shared in a July 31 Facebook post shows a standoff between a black bear mother protecting her cub and an approaching brown bear.

The confrontation, dubbed a “Momma bear stare down” in the post, occurred in Tongass’ remote Anan Creek region, about 30 miles southeast of the town of Wrangell. The clip opens on the black bear cub, about 35 feet up, clinging to the trunk of a pine tree on the bank of a shallow river. As the camera swings down, the mother bear is at the base of the tree, staring at something to her left. Then the camera pans to the interloper—a curious and hungry-looking brown bear at the top of a hill.

“Anan is one of the only bear viewing sites in the world that has both brown and black bears,” the Forest Service said in the Facebook post. “Which leads to encounters like this where a black bear made a brown bear exit the area to protect her cub hiding up a tree.”

Toward the end of the clip, the black bear starts walking toward the brown bear and the brown bear turns and appears to leave. The post noted that because the region is rich in pink salmon and other food sources, black and brown bears rarely have violent altercations there.

The National Park Service (NPS) says that humans who find themselves face-to-face with a bear should respond differently based on the species. Because brown bears can sometimes look black and black bears often sport brown-colored coats, it’s important to be able to differentiate between the two based on factors other than color alone. 

The key features to look for are the large shoulder hump on a brown bear and the taller, more pointed ears on a black bear. Brown bears also have longer, more curved claws and a steeper snout bridge. Black bears tend to prefer forested habitat and don’t typically live in close proximity to brown bears, due to the danger they present when competing for a sparse food supply.

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If facing a brown bear (including grizzlies), NPS recommends that a person play dead, lying flat on their stomach with hands clasped behind their head. The person should fight back only if the bear continues to attack. For black bears, the opposite is true. The person should never play dead and, if attacked, should fight back as vigorously as possible while targeting the face and snout.

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