Another amazing season of bear viewing has recently finished. The late summer rain falling outside encourages me to stay inside and begin editing some of my images, and reliving some of the summer’s best moments. Throughout the season we travel the wild coast by boat and visit a number of different bays, each of which have their own resident community of bears that we see year after year. Though it made me feel a bit old, I was overjoyed to see a sow that I remember seeing as a spring cub 8 years ago while working with a Discovery Channel film crew on a series called Rogue Nature- Bears, with her first litter of two tiny cubs.
Here is a screenshot from a Discovery Channel documentary called Rogue Nature- Bears that I guided for back in 2006. In years since I have watched these two blonde female cubs grow into beautiful adults. This year one of the sisters had 2 spring cubs of her own!!!
Here is an image I took in 2009 of the two female sisters, when they were in their 4th summer, independent from their mother, but still hanging out together.
Here is one of the sisters, now a fully grown 8 years old female with two cubs of her own. We now refer to this female as Becky, because she was first spotted this summer by Becky Pahl, an NHA staff member, on an early July trip with me. Here she looks on as her two cubs feast on a sockeye salmon that she caught from a pool in the boulder strewn streambed. Doesn’t she look just like her mother from the first photo?
This 400 mile stretch of protected coastline is home to so many different bears. Each bear has its own unique set of tricks and secrets that are passed down from their mothers, and perfected through trial and error. I remember watching the female in 2006 teach Becky and her sister how to flip rocks over in the streams to find young salmon migrating to the ocean, and on the beach, to uncover a variety of edible creatures such as gunnel fish, mussels, and sand fleas. We spent several mornings watching Becky patiently teach her cubs these same skills. We were the first humans these cubs had ever seen, and they were a little nervous at first, but they trusted their mother who assured them that we were not a threat. After a few encounters they were as relaxed around us as their mother.
Becky teaches her the cubs to flip rocks over at low tide to find small fish. She looks much blonder in this early July photo s she does in those taken in mid August when she had begun to grow in her new, darker coat.
The cubs take a break from foraging to play-fight.
Our group flipped a few rocks over to see what the bears were after. Small, eel-like gunnel fish are plentiful in this bay, and provide an important source of food before the salmon arrive.
The bear family scours the tideline for food.
Portrait of Becky, as beautiful as any bear I have seen.
Close-up of one of the curious cubs.
The cubs look curiously at another female with a 1st summer cub.
Our group sits at the edge of the rocky streambed, as bears search out sockeye salmon. I have seen the bears fish for the adult salmon who heroically climb the falls to reach their spawning grounds, as well as the juvenile salmon who navigate downstream to reach the ocean.
This is Becky’s sister. She looks almost identical, but did not bear cubs this year, and has fresh wounds around her left eye which will scar for life, allowing me to differentiate the two sisters in the future. Judging by the number of salmon entering this drainage this summer, I expect her to have cubs of her own next summer.
Many of the highlights of this summer, and past summers have occurred in this very special bay. This was the same bay that Timothy Treadwell called “The Grizzly Maze” because of the spider’s web-like tangle of bear trails that connect the streams, lakes. and beaches. I remember having a long talk with Tim here in 2000, seeing his love of this bay, and its beautiful bears. Many times this summer I thought about Tim, while watching the daughters of the bears he fell in love with. I have to say I understand why he called this his favorite place on earth.
Check out the video below for scenes from our visits here-
Brad is a naturalist interpreter specializing in bear biology
and ecology of the north country. He attended the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, graduating with a B.S. in wildlife biology in 1999 (continue reading about Brad...)
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