A Day With The Bears

One of the things I wanted to do when coming to Alaska was to photograph the Alaskan Brown Bear.  The pictures that most people see of Alaskan bears is of the bear in the waterfall catching the salmon as it jumps up the falls.  This is in Alaska at a place called Brooks Falls.  At this time of the year, there are not as many salmon running up that river, so there are not too many bears around that area.  So I opted to fly out of Homer Alaska on a guided bear viewing trip.

We started by getting fitted with hip boots and getting our gear loaded into the belly of the float plane.  The plane was a DeHavilland Beaver.  

We would be flying over an hour to a glacier river.  The glacier melts an runs toward the ocean and is fresh water.  The tides come in and push the fish up this river.

After we landed we got a briefing on how we were going to walk amongst the bears and how we had to act in certain circumstances.  One of the things the guide said was if we should be challenged by a bear we were not to back up as the bear would see that as us backing down and it then might challenge us because it already had some dominance over us.  We started walking across the sand a mud flats besides the meadow and came across some tracks.  In the image below, the tracks on the left are from a wolf and the ones on the right are from a bear.

I wish I had something to put besides these tracks to give them scale as they were huge.  The wolf was about the size of my fist with just the ends of the fingers bent over.  The bear was probably the size of my size 10 boot.  The guide said that this wolf had to be big as he was sinking into the sand so deep.

I wish I had something to put besides these tracks to give them scale as they were huge.  The wolf was about the size of my fist with just the ends of the fingers bent over.  The bear was probably the size of my size 10 boot.  The guide said that this wolf had to be big as he was sinking into the sand so deep.

We had hiked a little over a mile when we saw a bear coming down the river our way.  The guide suggested we just take a seat and let her come to us.  This was a big female that the guide had seen quite a lot this season.

She had been fishing and was finishing up one of the fish she found.

She had been fishing and was finishing up one of the fish she found.

The main goal of the bears at this time of year is to eat as much as they can to store up fat for the winter hibernation.  So they eat and sleep and then eat some more.  After a while she dug a hole and took a nap.

After nap time, she took a little swim.  At first we thought she had caught a fish but it turned out to be a stick.  She "played" with the stick for some time.  It reminded me of what a dog might do when playing fetch.

Then it was time to get to business of fishing.  In this river, the salmon were jumping and making some splashing noise.  The guide said that is like the dinner bell to the bears.

She would slowly walk close to where a fish was swimming.

She would slowly walk close to where a fish was swimming.

Then she would start running toward the fish.  These salmon are powerful and fast swimmers.  If you have ever tried to catch a fish with your hands you know how fast a fish can be.  These salmon are strong swimmers.

Then she would start running toward the fish.  These salmon are powerful and fast swimmers.  If you have ever tried to catch a fish with your hands you know how fast a fish can be.  These salmon are strong swimmers.

After a quick chase, she would pounce like a cat on the fish.  It was amazing to see such a large animal be so agile and quick.  I realized that if one was ever chasing me I was toast as there is no way one could ever outrun a bear.

After a quick chase, she would pounce like a cat on the fish.  It was amazing to see such a large animal be so agile and quick.  I realized that if one was ever chasing me I was toast as there is no way one could ever outrun a bear.

In the distance we saw a sow with two cubs and another bear in a meadow so we headed that way.  The tide was coming in and the ankle deep river that we had traversed when we first landed had swollen to thigh depth...thank goodness for hip boots.  And the speed of the current was fast.    I had one camera strapped around my shoulder and I was carrying the other camera with the telephoto lens and all I could think was that I was going to go down and all my equipment was going to be under water.  Luckily I made it back with no problems.

Back at the plane we had some visitors in the river.  Six harbor seals had come into the river and were also fishing for the salmon.  Above us flew an eagle looking for a quick meal. On the flight back the pilot pointed out whales in the bay and sea lions sunning on an island.  All in all quite a day spending time with the true inhabitants of Alaska.