Brown bears might be capable hunters, but they're also famously unfussy eaters – and they'll rarely turn down a free meal. So when a dead sperm whale washed up in a rugged and remote part of south-central Alaska recently, it wasn't long before the local bear residents heard the dinner gong. 

Image: Karyn Traphagen, Stay Curious/Facebook

This stretch of Alaskan wilderness is one of the richest marine environments in the world, home to hundreds of different species. It was this lush landscape and vast biodiversity that drew science communicator Karyn Traphagen here, and she now works as a naturalist guide.

Upon hearing about the beached leviathan, which was spotted by an airplane pilot in early June, Traphagan set off to see it for herself. The "pinch me" moment came when she arrived at the scene to find a prowling brown bear who had come to scavenge the carcass. 

"There is no such thing as an average or typical day for me," Traphagen said in an interview with Live Science"Every day is different and is affected by things like the weather, the ever-changing seas and tides, and the unpredictable nature of wildlife. I'm just incredibly lucky to be here and to share this." 

Image: Karyn Traphagen, Stay Curious/Facebook
Image: Karyn Traphagen, Stay Curious/Facebook

Though the whale was in the early stages of decomposition, heavy winds kept the smell at bay. This made for exceptional viewing, an experience Traphagan shared with small groups of guests. For a brown bear (Ursos arctos), a whale of this size is a treasure trove of energy-rich blubber and oil, as well as protein-rich meat. 

According to Traphagen, the bears in the area are currently feasting on clams and sedge plants while they wait for salmon season. Bears are omnivores, but plants like sedges aren't particularly nutritious. In their early spring-time growth stages, the sedges are higher in protein and easier to digest, so bears will seek them out while they can. But it would take a very large quantity of sedges to match the energy offerings of a single whale meal. 

As you can imagine, a feast of free food can stir up a bit of competition between local predators. Just last year, wildlife photographer and bear guide Brad Josephs visited a fin whale carcass on the Alaskan peninsula, and witnessed some pecking-order tension firsthand. 

"Most of the bears were mellow and didn’t mind sharing," he recalls. "But during the days we spent there, we saw several giant males (at least 1,000 pounds) who weren’t so tolerant. When one of these big guys was eating, the younger bears and females had to sit out until he was full and fast asleep. When more than one big guy was hungry at the same time, they had to decide who the real 'carcass boss' was."

While Traphagen's sperm whale find didn't seem to draw such conflict, several other bears did visit the carcass, and she visted to observe the scene from afar in the week that followed. It seems other carnivores also stopped by.

"[There were] wolf tracks on the beach where we were bear-viewing," she adds on Facebook, a sighting that suggests the area's coastal canids may have come in for their share of the spoils. 

Image: Karyn Traphagen, Stay Curious/Facebook

Wolves are generally known to hunt terrestrial prey, but here in Alaska, they often look to the ocean for their sustenance, and have been seen feeding on salmon, shellfish and even sea otters!

You can keep up with the region's wildlife by visiting Traphagen's website and "Stay Curious" Facebook page.