TOKYO (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): Brown bears usually wait to feed on pink salmon swimming upstream at the estuaries in Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido from mid-August to early October.
In 2023, they have been unable to find the fish at the mouths of the rivers, reported The Asahi Shimbun on Monday. Instead, the brown bears have been swimming in the sea to look for food.
On Sept 19, images taken from a tour boat off the coast showed a thin bear swimming, turning rocks on a beach and rummaging through washed-ashore seaweed. The bear was searching for fish, shellfish and insects, said The Asahi Shimbun.
“Some bears have grown really thin, and they are having a tough time,” said Mr Katsuya Noda, who operates the cruise and told the newspaper.
“There are no fish in the rivers, just like last year.”
“This year, in addition to the lack of salmon, acorns also have a poor harvest, Mr Masami Yamanaka, a researcher at the Shiretoko Nature Foundation, told The Asahi Shimbun.
“An estimated 70 to 80 per cent of the cubs born this year are dead. It’s really a serious situation.”
Pink salmon is an importance source of food for the estimated 500 brown bears that inhabit Shiretoko Peninsula, a Unesco World Natural Heritage site, known for its landscapes and wild animals.
During summer, most of the brown bears lose weight as there are not enough plants to eat, reported The Asahi Shimbun.
With the pink salmon, the bears are able to gain weight before they move to the mountains, where they will eat acorns and other food. The bears will then hibernate for winter.
Poor acorn harvest in Hokkaido and other parts of norther Japan, have been blamed for the rise in bear attacks on humans in recent years.
In the year up to April 2022, a total of 1,056 brown bears were caught and killed in Hokkaido, reported The Guardian. This is the highest figure on record and the first time that the number went over 1,000, according to the prefecture’s government in the report.
Of these bears, 999 of them were put down to prevent damage to crops or because they were considered a danger to the local people, added the report.