Monday, May 04, 2009

"I don't know boo-boo, what's a bear to do?"

September 2008
Brown bear antics! With personalities and curiosity comes some truly wonderful moments, I almost can't "bear" to share the images with you! The lighter side of bears is presented here...
"Hmmm...tastes like chicken!"

"I can't believe I ate the whole thing..."

"They left the door open for me, they MUST want me to take this baby for a spin. I could buzz all my buddies and scare the blueberries right out of them!"

"ooh, busted! I almost made it too...!"

"These life jackets need a little more meat on (in) them..."

"I've always dreamed of having my own boat..."

"Insert key and turn clockwise. Pull choke lever up, push to engage propeller, add throttle to bring up to speed..."

"So much for my dream of sailing the high seas!"

"If I wait here long enough, maybe the ranger will bring me a picinic basket"!
Anthropomorphism - the inability to stop assigning silly captions to cute bear antics! I do apologize for the captions, but I hope you enjoy the images!

Look for the bear necessities...

September 2008
It's late September and I have left Southeast Alaska to head to the Katmai Peninsula to watch and photograph brown bears around Brooks Camp on the Brooks River. These bears will all be going into hibernation in only a matter of weeks so what becomes a bear necessity is to eat as much salmon as each bear can possibly stomach!

It is fascinating to me to watch a huge Alaskan brown bear daintily peel the skin off a salmon with only a set of claws as "silverware". The dexterity of bears as they pull off their favorite parts of the fish is a joy to watch and photograph.

In my 5 days camping here alone along the river I saw a total of 38 different bears! Many were content to spend the entire day patrolling the waters for dead salmon that have already spawned.
It's usually not the bear that I see that worries me (well OK, a little) but a bear like this, that I never saw but had to be right next to me. I had walked past this muddy spot to get a clear look at the river and had returned only minutes after going past this spot. Imagine my surprise when fresh bear tracks were in the exact spot I had been only minutes before. That's a size 12 muck boot to give you an idea of the size of the bear (the one I didn't see, hear, smell, or feel). Upon seeing the track I have to say my senses sharpened a bit...

Not only the adults need to get as many calories as they can gobble, but cubs need to eat salmon too! This is a 2-year old dining on a fish with mom who is content with sharing dinner.

Moms will sometimes play-fight with a quarrelsome cub to sharpen skills the cub will need later in life. Here the cub (on the left, notice the clean, white teeth) seems to have the upper hand, but mom can quickly put it in its place if it gets a little too rambunctious.

With all that eating and life lessons there is still ample time for a cub to play and learn about the world around it outside of mom's attention. Here a cub chases a magpie that got a little too close to the salmon it was feeding on beside the lake.

Sometimes a good back scratch is a welcome diversion. This cub just couldn't seem to get to that exact spot...

But perhaps the best playmate is a sibling cub. Here two coy (cubs-of-year) wrestle and push each other while mom is content to save her energy and build her reserves with more salmon.

The wrestling match continues and while it looks like fun it is honing important skills that these cubs will need later in life. Watching a day in the life of bears is such a privilege to me and I will be back here in September of 2009 to spend more time with these beautiful bears!
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Southeast Alaska critters

September 2008
So just what might a photographer expect to see and film on a one week trip aboard either the National Geographic Sea Bird or National Geographic Sea Lion in Southeast Alaska? Tons of animals (literally!) Everything from the small, like this rough-skinned newt...

... to birds of all different feathers (like these black-legged kittiwakes on ice).

Five types of Pacific salmon, like this sockeye spawning...

... or animals that feed on all of that fish like the lovable face of a Steller sea lion.

You want bears? We got 'em! Up close and VERY personal, like this black bear photographed with my 24-105mm lens right at my feet.

And of course brown bears in abundance feeding on those very same salmon.

Lots of whales and dolphins live in the waters surrounding all these islands, like these killer whales swimming in pod formation...

...or these humpback whales cooperatively bubble-net feeding off Chichagof Island.

In fact you might just be surprised at how many animals you can find here in Southeast Alaska...

... if you only look! So come and see for yourself. I would be happy to share the beauty and wonder of Southeast Alaska with you and your camera(s) in August and September this year. Call 1.800.EXPEDITION for details!

Magnificent Tracy Arm

September 2008
Tracy Arm is an ice carved fjord about 45 miles south of Juneau, Alaska. The fjord ends in two beautiful glaciers, the north and south Sawyer Glaciers. Both of these glaciers are extremely active, and each is receding visibly between our visits. Huge icebergs as well as lots of bergy bits and growlers are constantly being deposited into the ocean from the glaciers as they calve ice into the sea. The bergs themselves are often deep blue with an ethereal light that seems to come from within the ice itself.

To see a calving event is a matter of patience and timing. Often huge sections of the glaciers face will break off and crash into the sea with a thunderous sound.

Possibly even more amazing, though much less cacophonous an event, is when a huge piece of ice breaks off the glaciers' face from below the sea surface where we can't see or hear it until the detached iceberg launches itself into the air from below. These bergs are called "shooters" and can also be enormous, creating large waves that threaten small boats too near the face.

For several years now I have returned each summer to witness the retreat of the two Sawyer Glaciers in Tracy Arm. This waterfall and exposed rock were covered in ice by South Sawyer Glacier only four short years ago.

Being up-close and personal in our Zodiacs really gives the sense for how small we humans really are in the geological events that surround us here in this fjord. How ironic that it is the very way we are choosing to live our lives here in the 21st century that is accelerating the climate change that is directly (and visibly) forcing the retreat of these glaciers!

A small harbor porpoise swims among the bergy bits deep in the fjord next to Sawyer Glacier, perhaps the very first animal to swim in this newly opened section of the fjord. Glaciers are in a constant state of change all over the world, and most are retreating at an alarming rate. It will be a sad day indeed if we lose them altogether here in Southeast Alaska. Better come and enjoy them while you can...

Otterly-ridiculous Southeast Alaska

September 2008
Early morning in Idaho inlet and this sea otter is out cruising looking for breakfast. Sea otters might reach 100 pounds, and they need to eat almost 35% of their body weight each and every day to feed their incredibly high metabolism. Though they seem like they might be related to seals and sea lions, sea otters are actually the largest and heaviest member of the weasel family.

This otter is working on a Dungeness crab in typical otter fashion; lying on its back in the water and using its belly for the breakfast table!

This pair of otters has scored a HUGE meal...a Giant Pacific Octopus! This is the largest octopus species in the world, with a record weight of over 150 lbs confirmed. It takes two otters just to keep the thing at the surface! Mmmm... a little sushi to start the day!

Grace, beauty, curiosity and of course their incredibly dense fur (almost a million hairs per square inch!) got these animals into all sorts of trouble when they were "discovered" by Georg Steller in 1741. From an historical population of between 150,000 and 300,000 otters they were quickly culled down to less than 2,000 individuals to feed the fur trade. Seems it doesn't pay to have the densest fur of any mammal on the planet.

With good management and protected status sea otter populations are on the rise here in Southeast Alaska. Here is a very rare sight indeed; a mother sea otter nursing her young while hauled out on land in the South Marble Islands. Many sea otters never come to shore at all, spending their entire lives at sea!
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A Steller Day in Southeast Alaska!

September 2008
It is almost a full moon and the spring tide is racing into Icy Strait through Inian Pass from Cross Sound in the Gulf of Alaska. The Steller (Northern) Sea Lions lie in wait to catch salmon as they return to their natal streams through the only access salmon have to inside waters in this part of Alaska. But wait! What are these curious creatures in bright orange vests doing in our feeding grounds? Larry Hobbs is the first to encounter the welcome committee.

A few false charges and some territorial displays let us know just whose fishing grounds we are visiting. Hmmm...they don't look so bad after all! Once we are determined not to be a threat to sea lion lunch, curiosity takes over and the inspections begin.

Soon a game of "I dare you" starts. You remember this game from your childhood right? It goes something like this: "I dare you to get closer to that boat" and then the reply "I double dare you", usually followed by "I double dog dare you".

Soon the sea lions are right alongside, much to the delight of us all!

Video chronicler Beau Sylte gets some in-your-face shots as the games continue.

Soon all the youngsters on the block have us surrounded and are checking us out. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but here in Southeast Alaska it just makes for a Steller day!
Visit for more information on how you can join me in August and September of 2009 to see and film Steller sea lions in Southeast Alaska.