Home Back Forward September 4, 1998: The Smell of Bear.



(sadly, only one picture this time: not enough power!)



From Maureen:

What does a grizzly bear smell like? I have reached the point now that if I am down wind from a bear I can identify that it is a bear. This is a worthwhile sensory development, especially if in dense bush with bears sleeping nearby. Last year, down the river from our camp, crawling through some dense alder, I suddenly inhaled a strong smell of bear. I back-tracked and came around in front of the bush, giving my scent to the bear. A very large male stood up on its hind legs in surprise finding me so close and ran, frightened by this immediate encounter. I looked at where it had been sleeping. I had picked up his smell about 3 feet from him and was glad I hadn't stepped on his toes!

Describing how a bear smells is as hard as describing how a horse smells to someone who has never been around horses. Equine and ursine scents are very unique to each animal. Most of the year, bears smell like the tundra - sweet and like grass in the fall when it starts to dry out. In June, when they are feeding on plants mostly and are wet, their fur smells like wet grass, almost like dried clover. I can't think of another way to describe it. The bear's odor is simply stronger than the surrounding vegetation and not that hard to identify when you know it. I suspect that bears, like people, smell a bit like what they eat. For example, humans smell like garlic, if they eat a lot of garlic. When the fish are running in August, their smell changes. After eating fish, they start to smell like fish. Partly it seems to come out the pores in their skin. Partly it is because bears love to roll in anything smelly, like a dead fish. And, partly because their shit is full of fish. No need to describe that scent!

Every human has a unique set of olfactory tools and undoubtedly, what I smell and identify as similar to dried grass is slightly different from what another person would use as a comparison. Have you ever heard a group of people try to come up with one word for the bouquet of a good wine? However, I think I am safe to say their smell is for the most part, pleasant. When I am near our cubs I love the aroma of their hair. It makes me want to run my hands through it; an urge I resist. I simply inhale and enjoy it.

© Lenticular Productions Ltd. 1998