There’s a soap opera star living in Juneau, and she’s a 12-year-old black bear.
Bear 153’s existence has been thoroughly documented since she was tagged as a cub. Her life, which has included dramatic gender reveals, births, deaths and unusual family drama, was the subject of a Fireside Lecture on Friday night.
“This is all in our backyards, folks,” said Laurie Craig, former lead naturalist at Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, who gave the talk about Bear 153 at Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.
Craig began the free, public lecture by explaining who Bear 153 is and who she isn’t.
Bear 153 is not Nicky, the popular bear with cinnamon fur and namesake nick in her ear. Bear 153 is identifiable by a two-piece blue tag on her ear and a white heart-shaped patch on her chest that is visible when she stands up.
“When you see a bear stand, it’s not because they’re becoming aggressive, but because they’re curious and want to see what’s going on,” Craig said.
Bear 153 was tagged as a cub in 2007 when her mother was collared after the family was found going through trash in a neighborhood near the glacier.
“That’s not a good way to start a life,” Craig said.
Craig said the bears were collared and tagged by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game and bears are tagged so there is a better understanding of urban bear and wild bear interaction, food conditioning and coexisting with bears.
Despite starting off toward developing bad habits, Bear 153 did not become a problem. She spent the summer months around Mendenhall Glacier, fishing in Steep Creek and climbing trees to eat seed pods.
Craig said the area provides an important environment for Juneau’s bears.
“This forest has so much for them to eat, they don’t need to go through our garbage,” Craig said.
At the time of her tagging, Bear 153 was identified as a male, which Craig said made the birth of her first cubs in 2013 a surprise during an already fun time of year.
“Every spring, we’re so excited when the bears show up again,” Craig said.
Among that first first litter was a bear with a distinct white V-shaped mark on her chest that’s come to be known as Chevron or Luna. Chevron has since matured and had a cub of her own.
In 2015, Bear 153 and Chevron did something Craig said she hadn’t previously seen in her 14 years at the glacier and has not seen happen again.
“153 allowed her 2013 cub to come back and hang out,” Craig said. “So we have a 2-and-a-half-year-old hanging out with the cub of the year. In essence 153 had a nanny. It was teaching [the cub] some bad habits, but they were having a great time together.”
She said the nanny-reared cub is going to have an interesting life, and she’s excited to see how it plays out.
“Will he be swaggering through as an adult because he was swaggering as a cub?” Craig asked.
Craig said that since Chevron would mind the new cub, Bear 153 spent the summer foraging.
“She spent a lot of time eating that summer because she had the babysitter,” Craig said.
In 2017, Bear 153 had a litter of four — three of the cubs survived. They appeared on an internationally televised special that came to Juneau that year.
“This family’s become quite the star of BBC’s ‘Wild Alaska Live,” Craig said.
Craig said she’s hoping Bear 153 is in a den somewhere with the newest branch of her family tree.
“She is an amazing bear and an amazing mother,” Craig said. “It is such a privilege because of that little piece of blue plastic in her ear that we’ve been able to follow her life practically since she was born.”
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenHohenstatt.