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Coastal Brown Bear cubs play with each other. They play a lot. Well over one-half of the images I made of Brown Bears are of cubs at play.
We saw the same behavior again and again during our days observing the bears. A mother and her cubs would be foraging or on the move from one location to the next. Suddenly, one of the cubs would challenge another to wrestle or play fight.
The challenge invariably would be accepted and mock combat or some other form of play ensued.
Cubs’ play is physical, it is intense, and at times, it seems to be extremely violent.
The cubs choose almost any available venue as a playground. Playing in water is just as acceptable as playing onshore.
As violent as their play appears to be, no one ever seems to get hurt. The cubs have unwritten rules governing their mock combat. They never use their claws — fearsome even on a yearling cub — to inflict scratches or wounds. And, although the cubs appear to bite each other during play, the biting is feigned.
Play burns a lot of calories but the very well nourished cubs that we observed seemed to have calories to spare. They certainly didn’t lack for energy.
Why do they do it? Biologists studying bears don’t know. Some speculate that play prepares the cubs for the physical challenges that they’ll face later in life. Others think that play’s purpose is to build muscle, improve conditioning, and sharpen coordination.
Personally, I think that while bear cubs may benefit from play, they don’t understand any reason for playing other than that it is fun.
Images made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens, aperture priority setting. First image shot at ISO 1000, f8 @ 1/1000. Second image shot at ISO 1000, f8 @ 1/640. Third image shot at ISO 800, f8 @ 1/1000. Fourth image shot at ISO 1000, f8 @ 1/1000. Fifth image shot at ISO 1000, f8 @ 1/2500. Sixth image shot at ISO 500, f 7.1 @ 1/1000. Seventh image shot at ISO 800, f8 @ 1/1000.