The four days I spent in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary in August were incredible. I’ve posted a number of images, bears and other wildlife, frequently over the two and half months since returning. From a productive photography perspective, the trip was a success by any measure. Alongside the images I came back with are the memories of individual encounters, the surprise of a seal popping up beside the boat as well of a pod of orcas transiting by at a distance and good deal more. I’ve saved my favourite bear encounter for the last.
After a couple of days of heavy rain, the third day in the inlet was cold but clear. Not long after dawn broke we were in the zodiac floating at the mouth of a creek where the salmon were running up. Along with a mixed flock of gulls, we were waiting in the hopes that a bear would materialize out of the rainforest and start fishing. A bit restless, I let my eyes wander along the shoreline across the water. On one sweep of the kelp covered rocks exposed during the low tide, I caught a bit of movement. Through a lens, I could make out an adult padding along eastwards towards the estuary. Drawing closer, we saw a second bear skip out of the dark shadows the forest still held on to.
This ball of fur was a cub, a first year, and for the next hour we paralleled their passage over rock, under tree and across stony beaches.
The mother was cautious when she heard the boat but Dan Wakeman, the captain of the Sun Chaser and our guide, has been in the inlet for the past thirty-five summers and as we pulled within twenty-five yards of the shoreline, she recognized her fellow resident and carried on with few second glances thereafter.
The cub was far more curious about us than its parent was. A few times it pulled up, stared in the zodiac’s direction and huffed. Mom’s only notice of the behaviour came the times when there was too much huffing and not enough walking. At those times, she would huff and the little one would scurry back in step.
They weren’t racing along the shore but it did seem that she had a place she wanted to be. Presumably it was the easy fishing grounds of the estuary at low tide. There was still time to stop and snack on berries in a heavily wooded chute.
Mom may not have been worried about us but she was on alert for other bears. The boars can attack a mother and her cubs at any time so she would stop and have a listen, a sniff and a look now and again.
There was no trail that they were following as this shoreline spends half the time underwater. The wet kelp, rocks and edge grass would have seen me sliding all over the place if I was covering the same ground. With their padded feet and surprising agility, these Grizzlies had few slips and little trouble navigating the terrain.
They reached the estuary and moved down onto the beach above. From there they strode away towards the channels where the river was channeled with the tide out. Salmon were surely on the menu. We crossed the inlet and there was already an understanding that this had been a very special encounter. This is a small glimpse into the magic and majesty of the Khutzeymateen Inlet. I will be returning in June to see the bears as they’ve emerged from hibernation and are busy eating the sedge grass, raising cubs and coupling up – I honestly can’t wait.