Back to finishing up our posts about last summer’s Alaskan adventures! In our last post we decided to wait for moderated weather before heading further west along the Alaska Peninsula. The forecast predicted easing conditions in the afternoon of August 24, so we decided to watch bears from our dinghy again in the morning before leaving. A little more exciting this time!
Everything went well at first: we sat quietly in the dinghy watching a mother and cubs. The tide was flooding and pulling us slowly towards one part of the stream where the bears fish but away from the bear family, which was congregated on another part of the delta. Unbeknownst to us a lone bear was fishing upstream, behind a clump of grass. We couldn’t see him and he couldn’t see us until he came out into mid-stream. He’d just caught a fish. Then he saw us and charged!
My adrenaline soared, but my thinking brain told me it was a bluff charge, that the bear was defending his food source from a surprise threat. The best reaction is to appear calm and non-threatening and back away. Of course this kind of defensive behavior can certainly escalate, and all my instincts and adrenaline were pumping me with fear. Seth was in the stern with the camera and I had the oars, so I pulled away with strokes that were probably not as smooth and calm as they should have been! Seth kept capturing images the whole time!
Fortunately the bear did stop after a few huge, fast strides. Either it was in fact a bluff charge or he decided we had gotten far enough away from him and his catch. He turned towards the bank and ambled into the grass to pull apart his salmon. He didn’t look at us again. Nonetheless it was the scariest moment of the voyage!!
Our big mistake was not to have made a more careful reconnaissance of the area before settling down to watch one group. And then getting absorbed in observing one set of animals instead of keeping a constant look-out for others. Rule No. 1 with top predators is not to startle them! I’m not sure why we didn’t follow our usual practice of keeping a good look-out—maybe our minds were on the forthcoming passage, which we knew was going to be difficult—but obviously we never forgot again!