Social media sites were atwitter in Haines on Thursday morning after photos surfaced of green bears in the Chilkoot River.
The bears — a sow and her spring cub — had somehow been doused in what appears to be green paint.
State biologists were examining the photos and making calls to try and find out more.
There are a lot of theories floating around the web about how and why the bears are painted green: one Facebook commenter suggested the green-paint explosion was an effort to thwart trophy hunters; another asked if it was an early homage to St. Patrick’s Day; and several suggested the bruins are showing their Haines Glacier Bear pride – the high school mascot is a green bear.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist Carl Koch said it’s most likely just a case of nosey bears getting into unsecured trash.
The photos show the bears’ heads and necks coated in bright green paint.
“You see the sow’s muzzle is clean, and the cub’s is not and the cub’s ear is completely covered,” Koch said. “Total guess, but maybe the cub bit into a spray can and it exploded. And if the sow had her face in something else, and it covered the muzzle and protected it. I just don’t know, it’s hard to say. I’ve been sending out emails to see if anybody knows how or where it occurred.”
Koch was emailed the photos and has been fielding calls Thursday about the painted bears, which were first noticed Wednesday.
It’s possible the bears were soaked in paint by someone as a method of self-defense, but he’s never heard of that happening before, he said.
Bear spray is far more effective, he said.
As far as the trophy hunting theory goes, he said it would be foolish of a person to test that method for a couple of different reasons. First, it’s illegal to hunt sows with cubs. And, it’s illegal to interfere with a legal hunt. The good news, Koch says, is that the bears don’t appear to be in distress.
“What looks good to me is that the photos look like their eyes look good,” he said. “So, if they didn’t drink it … so far, I haven’t heard any signs that they’re in ill health, but I’ve asked folks to keep an eye on that and let me know.”
Tom Ganner, a local professional photographer and volunteer bear monitor out at Chilkoot, posted the photos on Wednesday evening.
In his caption, he joked that perhaps the bears were greenies or “tree huggers.” He said he was cruising out the Chilkoot State Park road when he saw traffic had backed up and a crowd was gathered on the riverbank.
“I pulled over to see what was going on and people said ‘There are some very strange bears over there,’” Ganner said. “I had a look and sure enough, they appeared to be half green, or green heads. So I got out my camera to document it. They were just fishing along the far side of the river.”
Ganner has been observing and photographing the bears on the Chilkoot River for about a decade.
He said crowds of people and their “bear viewing on a beer budget” are not unusual along the Chilkoot River, especially at this time of year when the salmon are running, and the bears are trying to fatten up for winter.
this year has been pretty calm, compared with seasons past, he said.
the green bears were concentrating on a salmon feast, and weren’t pawing at their eyes or mouth, Ganner said.
“They appeared to be behaving normally, fishing as normal, swimming,” he said. “They appeared to be engaging in normal behavior. What was odd to be was just the extent of the green paint.”
The Department of Fish and Game won’t step in to clean them off, Koch said.
“If they’re not in ill health because of it, even if they are, there’s not a whole lot we can do unless they became so ill that they needed to be euthanized,” he said. “If it’s dried on there, you’d probably have to use some chemical to remove it and that could make matters worse. What will happen, I hope, is that they’ll stay in good health and it’ll shed out, or at least most of it will shed out.”
Koch said this is an excellent reminder that bears are out in force right now, and people should be especially aware of what they’re leaving in their yards. Bears, especially cubs, are curious creatures and will get into just about anything, he said.
“I would tell everyone to secure their attractants, especially trash, and any kind of food attractant. And then, if they have bear issues, let us know.”
As the photos continue to circulate, and the guesses get more outlandish, Koch says they’ll keep on investigating the case of the green bears in Haines.
Anyone with information should call Koch at 465-4329 or email firstname.lastname@example.org