Conservation Wildlife Management

An Alaska Man Lassoed a Drowning Brown Bear, and the Photos Have Resurfaced

"They had their hands full trying to keep it from climbing in the boat"
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drowning bear lassoed alaska

Roping the bear was the easy part, according to a 2017 Facebook post. via Facebook

An unidentified outdoorsman in southeast Alaska allegedly pulled off a daring and dangerous wildlife rescue off the coast of Kodiak Island. While motoring across the bay in his boat several years ago, the man spotted a brown bear that had swum too far from shore. The bear was struggling to keep its head above the water, and the man didn’t think it had enough energy to swim back on its own. So he grabbed a rope and lassoed the drowning bear. Then he towed it back to shore and set it free.

Details from the 2017 incident are slim, and the bear roper’s identity remains a mystery. But a Facebook post describing the rescue is still circulating on the social media site. The photos show a large brown bear being towed through the bay with a rope around its head and jaws. The bear is hanging off the stern, its claws gripping the jack plate on the outboard motor.

Wayne McGee, who made the original post that May, tells Outdoor Life that he doesn’t remember where he first heard the story or who shared the photos with him. He says he’s pretty sure the rescuer was a long-term Kodiak resident.

Other social media users still have their doubts, and one commenter who responded to a recent share of McGee’s post wrote it off as an “internet myth.” Others have pointed out that coastal brown bears are excellent swimmers, which is true, and that the bear would have survived on its own.   

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But if the incident did happen as McGee described it, then the mystery wrangler deserves at least some recognition for his fearlessness. Roping a 1,000-pound distressed apex predator while cornered on a boat in the bay is not something most people would even consider.

Nor should they, as every wildlife agency in the country advises against rescuing wild animals in distress—especially if that animal is a grizzly or a coastal brown. And as McGee pointed out in a comment years ago, the incident could have turned out much differently if the rescuer didn’t have a long oar in their boat to keep the bear at a safe distance.

“This was in the sea well off the coast of Kodiak and an experienced outdoorsman watched this bear struggling and actually go under a few times before deciding it was necessary to intervene,” McGee wrote. “They had their hands full trying to keep it from climbing in the boat once ‘rescued’!”