New evidences that brown bears can make some kinds of whistles was sent to me by Norwegian hominoid researcher Erik Knatterud. Early I wrote to him that whistles in woods if not made by people are some kind of hints that a hominoid may be in the region. Erik proved me that sometimes whistle sounds can be produced by brown bears. Later I found similar publications in Russian part of Web. But I had not found anything about this feature of bears in academic books devoted to bear ecology.
The first mail from Erik Knatterud.
I told you about bear whistling sounds. I claimed that bears do in fact produce a kind of whistling sound, a sound it uses when the bear is irritated. Earlier I thought that this merely was a kind of warning signal produced for the benefit of warning the cubs. The sound is produced when the bear blows out through its nose, resulting in a nasal whistle.
Here is an interesting turn. Last fall we had a license hunt to kill a bear. Well, one was shot in an adjoining district, so the hunt was called of. We often hunt moose with a single loose log, the dog then barks at the moose when the moose makes a stand, thus allowing the hunter to get closer and fell the animal. Bears are hunted in the same way. In wolf districts this is not possible as wolves often attack, kill and eat single hunting dogs.
In such situations dogs are always walked in a leash. Today a friend of mine visited for a coffee cup, and naturally we talk hunt. In October he was sitting somewhere waiting for the dog to find and start barking at some moose, but nothing happened. He got aware of a strange whistling noise about 200 - 250 meters downwind of him. So he used the radio to call up the guy with the loose dog. Yes, he too had listened to this sound for a bit while his dog was out, and towards the same spot my friend heard it. The dog repeatedly disappeared but kept coming back to him, each time from the spot where this nasal whistle emanated in the rather dense forest. The dog cowardly did not bark at the bear but probably announced its presence to the bear who kept on warning the dog, possibly quite irritated as the dog kept coming back.
So, the owner put the dog on a leash and let the bear go, since these two guys were on a wrong side of a boundary and had no permission to hunt bears anyway. The two wanted to investigate, and they found the tracks of a big bear walking from the whistling spot trailing off along a tractor spoor. The bear tracks were clear in the mud from the tractor tires. The nasal whistling had kept on for about a quarter of an hour, as long as the dog kept annoying the bear.
Answer by Michael Trachtengerts to Erik Knatterud.
Very interesting and important for field hominologists information about whistling bears. I thought before that whistle in remote region is a sign for hominoid presence somewhere near (if it is not a human). So, a field researcher may be fooled by a bear. I never read about this ability of bears before.
After receiving the information from you I tried to find the similar in Russian part of the Web. And have found some proves of the bear ability. I translated them for you.
The first two are descriptions for hunters of bear behavior on a ripe oats fields in summer. It is a license bear hunt in Russia.
a) During hunt at oats fields you have an opportunity to observe life of animals in freedom. Sitting in a warehouse, you observe hares, badgers, wild boars, foxes, wood-grouses, raccoon dogs, how meadow falcon hunt mice. A saw with bear cubs, appeared on a field, makes quiet, with a metal tone, whistles. The three-or-four-year-old bears warn each other also by whistle. But when a strong bear-patriarch of the wood approaches the field, as all younger animal brotherhood arrows to disappear in a forest.
b) A bear eating oats in a field warns other bears with loud and rather rough whistle. It is like boys whistle, having put two fingers in his mouth. However, probably, that bears whistle for quite different purpose.
c) I think that most interesting case for you came from Norway.
In the North of Norway where borders with Finland and Russia cross, there is a famous park Pasvik - 66,6 square kilometers. It is a real paradise for birds, elks and gluttons. Here also is the greatest in Norway group of brown bears.
They usually do not touch people. But if you heard the specific whistle that means, that a bear has found some food for itself, it is necessary slowly, but surely to move from the place. The panic in such situation becomes for an animal as sign to follow after a man, that the beast may be deadly dangerous.
The second mail from Erik Knatterud.
Of course you got my permission to use may mail on your web site. May be other hunters read it and can tell you of their experiences. I am glad that I previously had told my friend Jan about his whistling. Members of my earlier hunting groups could be amazingly ignorant, and I have over the years taught them a lot about wildlife, things I will not repeat here.
Once I spent three days in Pasvik, a lovely place with nice lakes and small cottages to stay the night. There also are reindeer herders there, descendants of Finnish (not Sami) people. A saw with her young cubs would be the first to use this whistle, and it is interesting that you collected three nice examples.
It is a sound that not carries very far, as it is meant to warn for close contact. It is not a very sharp and shrill whistle. I wish I could have heard hominid whistle to compare and tell you the difference. The ones from the American Sierra tapes are different and more piercing, and the one I heard at night last year from the border region east of Oslo was loud and did not sound like a bear. The bear sound got a lot of "air" in it.