Fortress of the Bears

Watch a preview of the PBS Nature film, Fortress of the Bears.

Alaska’s Admiralty Island is home to an estimated 1800 brown bears, the largest concentration of bears in the world. Nearly 100 miles long and 20 miles wide, it is half the size of Yellowstone National Park, yet it sustains four times more grizzlies. The native Tlingít people call this island “Kootznoowoo,” meaning “Fortress of the Bears.” It is a place where bears depend on fish, fish depend on trees, and the trees depend on fish-eating bears to spread the nitrogen rich bodies of salmon throughout the forest. Everything depends on the annual salmon run. When a change in the weather keeps the salmon from arriving, the entire ecosystem is affected.

A La Niña winter has cooled the water to two degrees below normal, keeping the salmon out of the streams and delaying the run. It’s the worst salmon season in the last 40 years. As the bears wait for the salmon, they hunt and scavenge for anything they can find to supplement their unsatisfying diet of grass. The receding tide offers unique opportunities, and one young bear demonstrates a remarkable talent for clamming. But the feast is short-lived. With the passing season showing no sign of fish, the bears become increasingly gaunt and desperate. Will the salmon finally make their way up the streams of Admiralty Island? And will the bears survive until they do?

Fortress of the Bears enters a world shaped by bears, trees, and salmon, and explores the delicate balance of their interconnected lives. Fortress of the Bears premieres Wednesday, January 25 at 8/7 c.

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  • Elaine E Magdich

    I can’t wait for this program,I live in a small Connecticut town (Barkhamsted) and are friends with many black bears that pass over my home area,all are beautiful and seem to not cause nusence,I Love bears ,,,they are beautiful, wild and free here so far. I also loved the program of that man who had many bears near his house in Alaska, but we must remember to look and leave wild nature to mother nature.

  • P. Richards

    I live in Alaska and I cannot find this show listed on any cable channel. I look forward to watching it!!

  • Debbie

    I live in Massachusetts … it will be on PBS tonight in my area.

    Hope this helps!
    Debbie : o )

  • L

    @ P. Richards, have you tried the pbs stations listed here??
    if you can’t find it , I think eventually the full episode will be available on this website for viewing.
    hope you get to watch : )

  • Kelly

    Who is narrating?

  • Shirley K

    We have been to Pack Creek. Spent an entire day sitting on a log above the tide line waiting for the bear to come to feast. The day was so hot the bear didn’t even come out of the bush.

    Can you tell us when the Fortress of the Bears was filmed? Thanks.

    Shirley K

  • Becky M

    What happened to cut nose?

  • cmammal

    Anyone have a suggestion of combining an Alaskan cruise with the opportunity to experience the wilderness — where to go?

  • cmammal

    How do you find out what channel on Direct TV and in which zip code the pbs special is on?

  • Carole

    What summer was this? Almost all our summers seem cold and wet.

  • Kat

    My local PBS listing says it will be on next Monday morning at 10 AM. I hope so! I thought it was going to be on last night but must have gotten bumped due to the President’s address.

  • Kevin and Kacy P. in AK

    Great film Shane and Janet! Beautiful job filming and catching the essence of the magic of brown bears, salmon runs, and Alaska. Once again you’ve produced something very special to be seen by so many.

  • Loren K

    What summer was this filmed?

  • Caroline

    What happened to cut nose? I saw that the mother and her last cub survived, but did cut nose? Did I miss something in the show?

  • Kerry G

    As a science teacher, I would appreciate (and will develop) curriculum materials to accompany this episode. It clearly identifies food webs and ecosystems. Wonderful job!

  • Ashley


  • Bob F.

    Great video. I liked the air to air fish transfer of the eagles best.

  • Chas M

    When was it filmed? What year did that happen?

  • Dave

    Some friends and I did a 110 mile sea kayak trip from the head of Seymor Canal down to a friend’s cabin on Pybus Bay in the summer of 2008 and it sounds a lot like the summer we were there. We saw more bears in Gambier and Pybus Bays than we did at Pack Creek. Too many day trippers coming in on float planes from Juneau, and I think all of the noise scared the bears off. Admiralty is an absolutely beautiful and wonderful place. Best appreciated in slow speed…like from a kayak.

  • Jack

    Seriously, what happened to Cut Nose?

  • debbi towns

    when will this episode be online?

  • Tom

    Please… We really would like to find out what happened to Cut Nose. She stole our hearts…. If she didn’t survive, we need to know… to put her to rest. But we pray she did make it through this incredibly difficult challenge in her life.

  • Smarsh

    I’m with Tom, and Jack, and Caroline and Becky— WE NEED CUT NOSE RESOLUTION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Andy McGill

    I live in Juneau and have been to Pack Creek and Admiralty Island many times. This is a terrible pretend Disney story that has little to do with reality. The La Nina weather happens a third of the time, so the bears have adjusted to it, and even then the salmon come a few weeks later, not months later.

    I have no idea how they got film of a moose swimming to Admiralty Island, since moose are very very scarce in the Alaska panhandle. I suspect that wasn’t on Admiralty Island.

    The scenery in SE Alaska is as good or better than the movie. But it just is not a stupid sappy story like the movie made it sound like.

  • Clark

    Dave – agreed re best way to see Admiralty is by kayak. In 2011, my wife & I paddled 84 miles from Juneau to West Bros, down Seymour Canal. Weather was awful, but the place is magnificent. We’ll be back for sure.

    Andy – I do not know why “Nature” and “Discovery” feel that they have to falsely jazz up nature to make it interesting. The beauty, strength, and serenity of Admiralty Island is better than any ginned up hollywoodized Nature/Discovery show. Too bad. Gives people false impressions and expectations.

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