DA BEARS : Vancouver Grizzly Bear Adventure
What an adventure…
Michael planned a wonderful Vancouver fall vacation for us and surprised me by finding a grizzly bear trip out of Campbell River, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. No doubt about it, the trip turned into the highlight of our journey. Discovery Marine Safaris was the tour company we used. There are other vendors, but I can highly recommend this company. Everything about the trip was well organized and the staff, Captain John and Amber the naturalist on board, were knowledgeable and personable. And DA BEARS…. oh my!
We were worried about the weather
It rained all morning, and there was heavy fog when we left the dock. In fact, the fog was so thick that Captain John was navigating entirely by electronic devices. We really couldn’t enjoy the views of the many islands we were passing, but nevertheless the trip was pleasant and filled with lots of information to prepare us for our visit to the Homalco First Nations land where we would be HOPEFULLY seeing the grizzlies. Of course, this is no zoo.. we had no idea if the grizzlies would appear or not.
We did not have long to wait…
After the long boat ride, a ‘pee and flee’ stop at the Homalco welcome building, and a short bus ride to the first viewing tower, we climbed up and prepared to wait. The fog was lifting, the sun was peeking through the clouds, and all 23 of us were filled with anticipation as our Homalco guides took us to the first viewing tower.
Captain John had explained that patience was a virtue! However, no patience was required. Within just a couple of minutes our first mamma grizzly bear, sow, came into view trailed by her THREE first year cubs. Everybody jockeyed for a good place to shoot; shutters clicking away.
The next 2 1/1 hours were a blur of bears and photographs. We had non-stop bear action. We saw 17 bears in all including two sets of triplets and two sets of twins!! Absolutely amazing. We spent time at three viewing towers and had almost no lag time between bear sightings. In fact we had several interesting moments when two groups of moms and cubs encountered each other. The reaction was mostly just curious, but at one juncture a mamma bear chased off a lone bear who appeared up river.
How close were they…..
They were VERY close at times. In fact, at one stop we had to leave the river bank and head up to the tower because a mamma bear had crossed the river and was walking along our side of the river bank. She was frame-filling close… and we were all absolutely thrilled! Captain John had cautioned us not to show fear, that grizzly bears sensed fear. I cannot speak for the others but I was never afraid; I was simply awed!
Mamma grizzly seemed oblivious to her visitors. Captain John reminded us that these bears were quite accustomed to platforms filled with camera slinging river guests, but we should not confuse the behavior of these bears with behavior of bears we might encounter in more remote wilderness. Duly noted… even these ‘friendly’ grizzlies were clearly powerful animals who lived confidently at the top of the food chain.
Focused On Fish..
The salmon spawn is an important time for the grizzly bears. They need the protein to fatten up for the long hibernation that would be coming soon. The bears were always focused on the water, scanning for salmon. Unfortunately we didn’t see them catch a single fish, although one mamma found a fish that had been stripped bare leaving only head and bones. Captain John told us that as we were reluctantly boarding the bus to return to the boat, the big boar that had just appeared down river did catch his dinner.
There were so many favorite moments, favorite photos. I took almost 900 photos and it’s taken me days to narrow them down to a manageable number. Of course the cubs were absolutely adorable. It was very interesting to see the difference between the first year and the second year cubs. The second year cubs were of course larger, but also so much more independent. That independence led to one of my favorite sequences when one second year cub decided it was bath time.
Bath time for baby bear…
This little fellow came swimming out into the river, plunked down, and began washing himself. He was clearly enjoying the cool glacier water. By the way, it’s the glacier flour, finely ground rock particles produced by glacial abrasion and suspended in the water, that creates the distinct aqua color that is obvious in many of these photos.
When the little fellow was finished cleaning up, and began to shake the water off, I couldn’t help but be reminded of our pup Ralph shaking off water after a nice ocean swim. Yes.. it does make you want to reach out and pet these furry little fellows. But close view of the photos reveal that even baby bears have BIG TEETH and long, thick, sharp claws!
Seeing the Creator through the Creation
It really is impossible not to think about God, creator of the universe, when you get such a unique opportunity to leave the concrete jungle and experience his creation in a more natural setting. As Captain John explained the inter-relationships between every aspect of what we were seeing God was once again revealed through His handiwork. Captain John explained how the fallen trees enrich the stream for the salmon, how the bears cache of fish in the woods enrich the forest, how the number of fish determine the number of cubs born each season, how watching how the bears consume the salmon, eating just the choice parts, or consuming the fish entirely, predicts the quantity of the salmon run. In short, how ‘nature’ undisturbed is a perfect life system sustaining all.
Mother Nature… NO… Father God! HE IS AWESOME!!