“If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly…” is a phrase I have worn out over the past few years. However, never in my wildest imagination did I think I would get the chance to come as close to being a real grizzly as I did the other day. As soon as our plane landed on Kodiak Island, Dad and I hopped onto another plane (see Dad’s post about the Widgeon) and flew to Katmai National Park and Preserve to see the brown bears (Kodiak grizzlies).
Our guide, Jo, has been taking wide-eyed “mainlanders” to Katmai for the past 10 years, and she seemed to know all the bears personally. Have to admit, it made things a bit less frightening to have her there interpreting the bears’ every move and look. She completely understood their communication and used that to slowly get us close. As Jo put it, “the bears have extremely expressive body language.” For example, when they tense up, the hump on their back becomes more prominent. On the other end of the spectrum, they put their heads down and/or turn their hind end toward you when they want to show non-aggression.
To get close, we hiked across meadows and forded streams in hip boots. By completely immersing ourselves in their habitat, we were able to silently watch bears dig for clams, fish for salmon, snooze, and play. Besides all the “singles”, we also came across a mom with one spring cub, a mom with 2 spring cubs, and a mom with a 2nd year cub. These bears are seriously good moms..VERY protective and nurturing. We watched one mom chase a wolf she had been feuding with away from her cubs and another mom chase off two bears who were play fighting in a river near her cub. We also watched a mom stop, drop, and roll over so her whining cubs could nurse. Fun fact about brown bear cubs: they are born while their mom is hibernating and they nurse for several months while she “sleeps”. At birth they are naked, blind, and only weigh one pound. See videos. Love those bears!!