On any given winter, Maine’s team of bear biologists visit upward of 100 bear dens to determine the size of the state’s black bear population, which is estimated between 24,000 and 36,000.

That’s a fact not many sportsmen in Maine know, but pretty soon it will be known by hunters nationwide.

In the first season of the newest outdoor cable show, Maine bear guide Blaine Anthony of Benton sheds light on the secret lives of bears as “The Bear Whisperer” on The Sportsman Channel. The show makes its debut at 6:30 p.m. tonight.

While Maine viewers may not get the station, depending on their cable network and package, Anthony’s footage of Maine bears will be seen across the country as The Sportsman Channel, launched in 2003, is offered on many TV systems, such as DirecTV and Verizon.

The host, Anthony, was born in New Hampshire and settled in Maine.

After becoming a Maine bear guide 14 years ago, Anthony turned to hosting outdoor cable shows, of which there are hundreds.

What sets Anthony’s show apart is not only his close encounters with bears, calling them in and hunting the bruins, but his interest in the science of bear management.

And while Anthony thinks his bear show will be different from a typical reality hunting show, Maine biologists are counting on it, given the time they spent with the show’s host in two Maine bear dens.

“They’re in entertainment, of course, but he does seem to have interest in some education,” said Maine bear biologist Randy Cross, who leads the state’s bear telemetry study.

“Those shows always seem to be mostly entertainment with a minimal amount of education, but every little bit helps.”

Maine’s black bear study that follows wild female bears with radio collars is one of the most comprehensive programs in the country.

Right now there are 83 female bears wearing radio collars and being followed by Cross. That means Maine biologists this winter will visit as many dens.

The Maine bear study has had as many as 122 bears collared and each winter biologists handle as many as 200 cubs as they follow bears that roam east of Bangor, west of Ashland and Downeast.

Cross not only took Anthony into one bear den with yearling (or year-old) bears, he liked the approach of the TV personality so well that he invited him back to see the smaller cubs that are closer to newborn size.

The biologist felt certain the state’s work will be well explained in the show.

“I think they’ll use footage of both,” Cross said. “But this educational opportunity is more poignant when you see yearling cubs. Those are the bears you’re counting to enter the population.”

Anthony believes the up-close look at bears from Maine, Canada and beyond will offer sportsman a unique and popular reality show.

“It’s more about conservation. And hunting is a part of conservation,” said Anthony, 44, who has been attacked by bears, and covers the dangers in that in the series.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: FlemingPPH