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Alaska 2007
  • Territory: Washington State, British Columbia, Alaska
  • Time: April - August 2007, 6000 miles traveled
  • Vessel: "Teacup", Nordic Tug 37
  • Primary Activity: Watch bears yell at each other.

Copyright © 2007, P. Lutus. All rights reserved.   Message Page

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Sex Among the Bears II

The previous page may create the impression that sex among bears isn't so different from sex among people. This isn't true. I chose the previous image set only because it clearly shows the phases of bear sex, but not to show a typical encounter. More typically, a male bear fights a bunch of other bears just to gain access to the females, then he fights with the females, most of whom don't want to mate with him for one reason or another.

After this struggle, a bear might end up exhausted and scarred, and may not even produce any offspring for his efforts. The pictures on this page show bear encounters that are more typical of my observations in the field.

First, a completely typical encounter, distinctly unromantic by human standards:

Hi! Nice to meet you!
Let's take a walk!
May I put my paw around you?
Stop clawing me, you ... you animal!
This isn't at all how I imagined it ...

Now the story of a young alpha-male wannabe I named "Othello":

This is Othello, a relatively young, inexperienced bear, who wants to be the alpha male but may not have the strength or experience to carry it off. Note the scar, the result of a serious fight earlier in the day with George, his primary adversary. Note also that Othello is a brown bear (species) with black fur (color). One can't distinguish bear species by their fur color. There are black brown bears, and brown black bears, if you follow me.
This is George. He's big. He's strong. But he's past his prime, and he might not prevail against Othello. George is also a nearly white brown bear, again showing that you can't distinguish bear species by fur color.
Othello succeeds in driving George off the beach ... temporarily.
Othello, who now owns the playing field, introduces himself to a female.
He moves in too quickly.
Othello reveals his inexperience.
This time, the female escapes.
Othello, George, and the female from above. Othello is pretty much worn out from constant fighting, George is wary of Othello because of the earlier fight, even though Othello got the worst of it, and the female won't decide between them, preferring to keep them guessing. A classic triangle.
On another occasion, Othello spent hours trying to corral this uncoöperative female bear ...
... but she eventually got away.


During several weeks of observation, I never once saw Othello successfully mate, even though he chased and fought and struggled nearly nonstop. This poor showing arises mostly from inexperience — Othello doesn't have the experience required to sort out the subtleties of bear mating.

The above are examples of typical bear sexual behavior. They are far removed from anything humans might regard as normal. Indeed, if we were to forget about the caution against applying human standards to non-human species discussed earlier, we might label this behavior with words like "rape," "sexual harassment," and so forth. But it isn't any of those things. It's normal behavior for bears.

Why is this comparison important? It's important because humans tend to assume that we live by universal moral standards, standards that bind everyone, standards that are beyond modification for all time. Bear behavior may serve to remind us that morals are chosen, they vary from place to place, and they change over time. Our rules aren't handed to us on stone tablets, instead we choose them, and then we may pretend they came from the sky.

It wasn't so long ago that our behavior more closely resembled that of bears. Men treated women like lower animals, denied them the right to be educated, to decide for themselves, to vote. It was only an embarrassingly short time ago that (in Western countries) women were finally accorded rights equal to those of men. But this change in status is not universal, any more than morals are universal. There are still places where women are physically mutilated to make them more docile, more manageable, places where a man may kill his wife if she displeases him.

And when women were treated like disposable property, that was based on the prevailing, supposedly immutable, moral standards of the day. Please remember this when someone tells you that a particular behavior is immoral or violates divine law — we make this stuff up as we go along. The more embarrassing or shameful a particular behavior is, the more likely it is to be defended as a moral principle rather than a choice. It's all choice, and none of it is written in stone.


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