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HindustanTimes Wed,30 Jul 2014

Alaska bears live on your smartphone

Sneha Mahale, Hindustan Times  Mumbai, July 21, 2013
First Published: 13:26 IST(21/7/2013) | Last Updated: 16:02 IST(21/7/2013)

A unique initiative is bringing the brown bears of Alaska’s Katmai National Park directly to your tablets or smartphone. Last week, Explore, a philanthropic multimedia organisation, has set up nine cameras that live shoot brown bears as they converge near Brooks Falls to catch salmon. Three commercial-free streams will transmit the images to your screens.

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Aside from watching as many as 30 bears converge at one spot, the cameras, which were also set up last year, give enthusiasts a chance to catch some great footage of salmon swimming upstream without disturbing the environment.

“The bears will congregate along the river and at the falls for the next few weeks while the salmon are running upstream, and then again in September, when spawning season ends,” says spokesperson Jason Damata. There are more than 2,000 bears in Katmai National Park and upwards of 100 in the concentrated area where the cameras have been placed. The great salmon runs make this an extraordinary time for bear viewing. And the cameras provide access to a national park that is difficult to reach and expensive for most tourists.

The cameras can also be used to observe bear behaviour. From mating to establishing a hierarchy to protecting young cubs to eating behaviours — such as high-grading (where full bears only eat the fattiest parts of the fish) — their social skills are on display. Damata says, “One that stands out is the ability to co-exist. These bears might not be as tolerant of each other or of humans in the late fall when they are heading into hibernation, for instance. But the salmon density makes it a special time.”

Explore.org uses solar panels, wind turbines, microwave relays and the Internet to capture and deliver the cameras. There is also an interface that helps operators focus and zoom on the subjects. So how will this help research? “Our partners have ways to monitoring the behaviours — from tagging to counting on site. Viewers can help by taking snapshots from the website and contributing to the research,” says Damata.

Spot them
Other places where live cams have been placed:
Churchill, Manitoba, Canada (polar bears)
Seal Island, Maine (puffins)
Montana (owls)
Hog Island, Maine (osprey nest)

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