Hokkaido's Bears Are Starving Amid Fish Shortage

Up to 80% of brown bear cubs in one area have died
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 27, 2023 6:45 PM CDT
Hokkaido's Bears Are Starving Amid Fish Shortage
A brown bear on a shoreline in Hokkaido, Japan.   (Getty Images/Satoru S)

This is the time of year when brown bears in Japan's northernmost island usually feast on salmon, packing on weight to prepare for hibernation. But this year, salmon numbers are very low and bears on Hokkaido's Shiretoko Peninsula are starving. Last week, people on a tour boat captured images of a starving bear cub turning over rocks on a beach and going through seaweed to search for insects or anything else to eat, the Asahi Shimbun reports.

This is the second year in a row that pink salmon numbers are a fraction of the usual level, and experts are blaming rising sea temperatures caused by climate change, the Guardian reports. The bears normally wait for salmon to swim upstream but have been spotted swimming in the sea to search for fish. "Some bears have grown really thin, and they are having a tough time," says tour boat operator Katsuya Noda. "There are no fish in the rivers, just like last year."

Acorns are another major food source for the bears, but there's not enough of them this year, says researcher Masami Yamanaka at the Shiretoko Nature Foundation. Yamanaka estimates that up to 80% of the cubs born this year have died. "It's really a serious situation," Yamanaka says.

(Read more bears stories.)

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