Monday, 15 December 2008

Bear-watching in Katmai, Alaska

We flew for 2 hours in a very small (and very expensive) floatplane ― you know, those that land on water ― across fjords and mountains to a peninsula called Katmai. Plenty of fishermen go there, as loads of salmon come here to breed (interesting fact: salmon swim all the way back to the very creek in which they themselves were hatched!) — and as there are salmon, there are of course bears who have to feed to get fat enough for winter hibernation.

And the bears have the right of way here. They ARE dangerous animals and you are not allowed to come close ― so if they decide to be on the only bridge, well, you just have to wait on the shore, in safety on an observation platform, sometimes for hours.

About twenty minutes into the forest are a couple of other platforms, just next to a tiny waterfall ― the one you see on the pix. Here, you can stay for an hour, watching these amazing creatures from just 20 metres as they catch salmon. Some grab them out of the water, some wait till the fish jump and then catch them in their mouths ...and some wait till a smaller bear has caught one, and then steals it. Whatever the tactics, it demands patience! Especially for the mother bears; their cubs just wait impatiently at the shore while she has to not only catch for herself and maybe two cubs but also take care not to get too far into the water, as male bears might attack and even eat the cubs if she can't defend them.

At one point, we counted 18 bears at the same time! It was far better live than on Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel. Wonderful.....

© Bjørn Clasen (photos and text)

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