As discussed in a previous post titled Guilty Pleasures, we will attempt to develop an application which can identify bears. We don’t want to simply identify if a bear is in a photo, but rather which individual bear is present. Since we frequently watch the Brooks Falls Live Cam, we will focus our efforts on the brown bears (Ursus arctos) present in the Brooks River area of Katmai National Park.

Why the Brooks River Brown Bears?

Brooks Falls

The Brooks River is a 1.5 mile stretch of river between Lake Brooks and Naknek Lake in Katmai National Park, Alaska. According to the Katmai Brown Bear FAQ, “it is one of the first streams in the region where energetic and pre-spawned salmon are available to bears.” Brooks Falls, situated about half way between the two lakes, creates a temporary barrier to the salmon. This provides ample fishing opportunities for the bears, and results in one of the greatest concentrations of brown bears on earth.

Biologists have been monitoring bear and human use of the Brooks River since 2001. They collect a variety of data on the bears including the number of bears using the river; activity rates by age, sex, and individual; behavior of bears seen; bear “arrival” and “departure” dates; etc. Annual bear visitation numbers have ranged from 49 (in 2014 and 2015) to 114 (in 2009) individuals in that time. Frequently observed individuals are assigned identification numbers and are tracked from year to year.

In addition to the biological studies, due to the Brooks Falls Live Cam from Explore, the Brooks River brown bears are an Internet phenomenon. The combination of the monitoring program and live cams has lead to the availability of ample photo and video data with identified brown bear individuals. Data is a critical piece of developing any deep learning application. Also, such and application would be of interest to both the scientists as well as the webcam watchers.

The Bears of Brooks River

Brooks Falls Males

The image above shows three adult males from the Brooks River: 868 (Wayne Brother), 856 and 489 (Ted). These images come from the eBoook series, Bears of Brooks River, published by Katmai National Park. Each eBook, published on an annual basis, describes many of the key individual brown bears observed during that season. The bears are identified in the book by their number (and sometimes a nickname) and are classified by age and sex. Images, life history and identification information are provided for each bear. The 2016 edition lists some 50 different active individuals.

Another good source of information on the Brooks River bears is the Katmai Bearcams Wiki, which documents the day-to-day happenings on the bear cams. There are numerous photo galleries and discussion groups about the bears and, of course, the bear cams. Last but not least, there is a vast community following the cams and/or visiting the Brooks River and sharing their experiences on the webcam discussions, blogs, etc.

Using these various resources, we started to get to know the bears of Brooks River. So how do we tell them apart? That is the topic of the next post.