How do bears fish? [click here to return to the list of questions]

Bears fish in ways that are unexpected to many observers because the way that humans might fish differs from the ways bears fish. For example, in this humorous commercial from the John West salmon company, how does the bear get the fish out of the water?

Step 1. Observe the bears. Pick a video of a fishing bear. How does its technique differ from that in the John West commercial? Make of list of the movements and positions that the bear makes to hunt for and catch fish.

Step 2. Assess your question, how is that bear fishing? Make a table with four columns.

First column: Using your list above, write down the states (prolonged disposition) and events (changes) that occur when a grizzly fishes. How does a grizzly behave while it is actively fishing vs when it is "just watching?"
Second column: Rank your criteria for usefulness in describing the fishing behavior on a scale of one to four. 1: a behavior shared by many different activities; 2: a behavior restricted to fishing, but not seen or difficult to see in the video, 3: a behavior that is easy to see (common) and restricted to particular acts of fishing, 4: a behavior that clearly initiates or ends a bout of fishing.
Third column: Give evidence that would support your ranking and refer to individual pictures or videos.
Fourth column: Write down which videos or picture sets were compared.

Step 3: Consider our list of fishing behaviors. Compare your list of fishing behaviors with our list, or ethogram, below. Before you go back to your videos, make a prediction or hypothesis about your ability to see some of the behaviors below in your video (that you may not have listed) and if they are in the same order. Justify your hypothesis.

A list of component states or events in a behavior is called an ethogram.
These are shown and ordered in the figure below:

Step 4. What is known: fishing is a often a group foraging behavior. There is a lot known about social foraging in herding animals, but little is known about it in animals, like Brown Bears, who are primary solitary outside of the special aggregation sites. Develop a hypothesis about what components of the fishing ethogram above are adaptations to a social environment, where other bears are nearby.

Step 5. Test your hypothesis by observing days when fishing is occuring at close quarters. What observations would support your hypothesis? What observations would disprove your hypothesis?

Step 6. If you see a new behavior, particularly one that is involved in social foraging, send an email to the Griffing lab at and the new information will be added to our modified ethogram. If you find a new behavior, you get to name it !