Monday, August 16, 2010
Having the opportunity to watch the Alaskan Brown Bear up close is something I never thought I'd have the chance to do. I think we are conditioned to see the Grizzly Bear as a fearsome predator, that will attack and eat you at the smallest provocation. The Alaskan Brown is the same bear, only bigger because of the rich diet of salmon along the coast. Also, because of the abundance of food, the Coastal Brown may just be the safest of all bears to view. These bears have never been hunted, or fed by humans (us!) they've been watched here in the Katmai National Park for over 18 years, and because everyone who has visited here has always respected this small fact. If you want to see the result of the interaction of people and bears on an absolutely destructive level one only needs to look as far as Yellowstone, or, in my neck of the woods, the Apostle Islands. Every year now for as long as I've been paddling in the Apostles, there have been islands closed to visitors because of problems with Black Bears. We are all losers in this situation, the people who can no longer visit the campsites and islands, and the bears. A problem bear will eventually need to be destroyed, and it's a learned behavior just from the interaction with careless people. Dave has made some excellent posts on the bear problems in the Apostles, and I just wanted to touch on this subject before I got into the Browns in the Katmai.
I had the chance to visit Alaska this summer for the first time. Alaska is one of the places I'd always dreamed of going to. The land of Denali, and so many glaciers I could never count them, caribou, moose, and of course, the big bears. The chance came as a job offer to work the summer on the planes at K Bay Air. Not getting into the details, but it was as fair an offer as any I'd ever had, and it was in Alaska. Little did I know how good an offer it was.
Before the bears I had the opportunity to meet, and spend a lot of time with the people of K Bay Air, a small company with two pilots Michael and Jack, a small office staff consisting of Dee and Elena, and the ground crew with Nick and Duncan, Canine Jim .. and me. I owe a debt if gratitude to these people for hospitality they showed me. They are the best! Check the website on the link, and if you ever get a chance to go to Alaska, it really is worth every penny to go see the bears.
When the salmon aren't running in the streams, the bears eat the sedge grass. The grass is abundant along the coast. It's high in protein, and the bears seem to enjoy eating it. When I first saw this I thought they just looked like cows in a pasture eating grass. but cows don't have big canine teeth and claws! But none the less there they were, grazing. I'd hoped to get a chance to view them in the stream catching salmon, and they didn't disappoint me.
These are just some of the over 400 images I took that afternoon. All were taken with Cannon EOS and a 200 mm lens, and are untouched by photoshop. Many I had to back off the zoom because they just filled up the viewfinder. When I could hear the grass tearing from the ground as the bears ate, and hear them breath as they walked by, you know you are as close as you will ever safely get.
The Katmai National Park is so inaccessible that the only way in is by plane and landing on the beach during low tide. I can only hope it stays this way so the bears and us will continue to coexist in this incredible place.