Carcasses of four Kodiak brown bears were found at a rural village trash dump and wildlife authorities said they had been shot.
Alaska State Troopers said the carcasses of a boar, a sow and two cubs were found Thursday at the landfill in Old Harbor, a community of 200 on the southeast coast of Kodiak Island.
Alaska laws allow bears to be shot in defense of life or property. That did not seem to be the case in this incident, said trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson.
"It does not appear at the time they were shot and that there was an immediate threat to life and property," Wilkinson said. "It's more, I believe, that people went out there more as a blood sport."
The bears probably were shot Wednesday night, he said.
"Most likely, out there at night, with a spotlight or flashlight," Wilkinson said.
A claw was cut off from one of the dead bears, he said.
Old Harbor is 70 miles southwest of the city of Kodiak and 322 miles southwest of Anchorage.
The village is accessible only by air or water. Many residents make their living fishing commercially or by subsistence activities.
Kodiak brown bears are some of the largest bears in Alaska. Brown and grizzly bears are classified as the same species, but according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, brown bears on Kodiak Island are classified as a distinct subspecies from those on the mainland because they are genetically and physically isolated. The shape of their skulls also differs slightly.
According to the department, most mature grizzly males weigh between 500 and 900 pounds with the largest bears reaching 1,400 pounds. The magnificent size of bears on Kodiak is due in part to the island's abundance of food, including salmon.
Brown bears have been known to live 34 years in the wild. More commonly, old males may reach 22 years and old females may live to 26, according to state biologists.
The Old Harbor village public safety officer called troopers about the carcasses Thursday. An enforcement officer and a biologist were headed to the village Friday.
It's unlikely that bears at the dump would have been a surprise to residents. Local authorities say bears have hung around at the landfill for as far as anyone can remember, Wilkinson said.
Two years ago, in October 2004, the owner of an Old Harbor general store was charged with three misdemeanors for shooting a bear at a large metal trash bin.
Charges were dropped but he paid $1,500 restitution in a donation to a nonprofit citizens organization that provides a hot line to report fish and game violations, Wilkinson said.
A second bear was shot the same month in Old Harbor but a criminal investigation did not result in a prosecution.
Whoever shot the four bears could be charged with hunting out of season, hunting without a permit, using an artificial light source and failing to salvage the skull and hide.
People who shoot bears in defense of life or property are required to report the incident, skin the animal and salvage the skull and hide.