ANCHORAGE - An Anchorage garbage bear completed a hazardous journey south to the Kenai Peninsula, including a crossing of treacherous Turnagain Arm, before dying sometime last year.
According to a tracking collar the male bear wore, the bruin crossed 2 1/2 miles of the middle of Turnagain Arm, an ocean inlet with sticky mudflats and strong tidal currents that has caught and killed other large animals trying to get to the other side.
"As far as I know, no one has ever called to say they had seen a black bear swimming Turnagain Arm," Anchorage-area biologist Rick Sinnott said. "The fact that we put one (satellite) collar on a bear and he does it suggests that it happens more often."
The collar was recovered from the Kenai River. The collar had been cut, leading biologists to conclude that someone killed the animal and tossed the $3,000 tracking device into the water.
The data in the collar's computer produced a detailed glimpse into the life of the bear and raised questions about how far other male bears might roam. One question remains unanswered.
"Why would a bear leave the great bait bucket that we call Anchorage and go down to the Kenai?" Sinnott said. "Who knows what he was thinking. ... It was the breeding period. Maybe there weren't enough hot females in the city."
The bear was captured in 2001 as a 2-year-old while eating sunflower seeds at an Anchorage home. Sinnott darted the bear and hauled it 45 miles up Turnagain Arm.
Within two weeks, the bruin had returned to the city.
After emerging last spring, it started raiding favorite neighborhoods again.
Last April, biologists tranquilized the bear and equipped it with the tracking collar. The collar was programed to record its location every half-hour through June 30 using global positioning satellites.
While biologists lost track of the bear, the GPS hits stored in the collar's computer traced a remarkable journey.
For three weeks, the bear wandered along the Turnagain Arm bluff neighborhoods. On May 15, the bear headed south. It was at Bird Point at 9:15 p.m. May 19, a few minutes after low tide. Half an hour later, the bear was pinpointed in the middle of Turnagain Arm's mud flats.
The bear next headed up the Hope Cutoff and down the Seward Highway. It poked up Resurrection Trail and wandered through Cooper Landing and was next seen crossing Skilak Lake Road on June 8.
Over the next three weeks, the bear remained north of Skilak Lake, wandering north and south of the Sterling Highway. One sighting had the bear following a smaller bear thought to be female. On June 30, the collar stopped collecting locations.
Based on a radio signals from the collar, researchers believe the bear remained in the area another month.