Return to the Great Bear Rainforest - 2022
Four years ago, in 2018, we visited British Columbia, Canada and headed North into the Great Bear Rainforest to try and find the, very rare, form of the Black Bear known as the Spirit or Kermode Bears (See here). After that trip we resolved to return as soon as we could. Well, a global pandemic and the destruction of the beautiful yacht used as our ‘mother ship’ got in the way of those plans. As 2022 dawned, Canada began opening for business and our guides let us know their replacement motor yacht was ready. We dusted our plans off and in June we were back on the North West Pacific Coast of Canada's British Columbia, a mere two years 'late'. This 'Journey' page collects the different galleries of animals that we saw on this trip.
The main focus of this trip was to see Grizzly Bears in their natural environment. So we will start with this.
(By the way, Click on the images on this page view them larger and page through!)
Knight Inlet - Grizzly Bears
Knight Inlet and its approaches down the passages between the Canadian mainland and Vancouver Island makes for a very interesting trip and a little more accessible to travellers than the Kutzymateen area. Knight Inlet is a great spot to warm up on watching Grizzly Bears. Originally this area was primarily a small private fishing lodge floating on the inlet. In recent years this lodge has placed a much greater focus on wildlife watching and is now run and managed buy the local First Nations tribes. We joined a trip from Fort McNeil, which is about 100km up the coast on Vancouver Island, That was again operated by a couple of First Nation guides who were not only knowledgable of the wildlife but also explained a good deal of the First Nations history and very contemporary difficulties in this area. We were fortunate to have a fine day for travelling to the inlet and some good light to photograph by. The day before our trip had been completely blown out by a stiff summer gale!
The Khutzymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary
The Khutzymateen is a sea inlet near to the border between British Columbia and Alaska. This area has been a sanctuary for all wildlife including Grizzly Bears for about 20 years. Grizzly Bear Hunting has been banned there for all that time and again, the Grizzly Bear has been highly respected by the First Nation Tribes for far longer that that. It is only in the last couple of years that Grizzly hunting has been banned across BC and that ban is fragile thing, it could easily be revoked by another administration. The bottom line is that humans no longer impinge on the bears for the vast majority of its area and only a very few operators can enter the estuary area with guests (as we were fortunate to so). It's still possible to see bears (as at Knight Inlet) at the steep shores in the rest of the inlet but its closely protected by a ranger station and it’s anyway very remote. When you add in the extended hunting ban, this is an area where you can observe and photograph bears truly in their natural habitat. The bears are extremely tolerant of the few humans they do see and ignore them because they don't impinge on them. It's a place where you can just see "bears being bears". We need more places like this in BC / Canada and the planet generally.
We visited in spring / early summer. Its a time of year when the Grizzlies are feeding on the rich sedge grass and plants like lupins rather than salmon and its a time when the big bears are out (it's mating season too!) rather than mothers with young. It's actually a risky time for young bears to be mixing with mature males in the mating season.
Views of the Khutzymateen Inlet
The Khutzemateen Inlet is typically shrouded in mist, with low light levels and sustained periods of rain (the clue is in the name 'rainforest'). To use photographer's jargon, it is very... 'atmospheric'. For our short visit we were fortunate enough to enjoy one of the rare periods of clear quiet days with views up into the mountain peaks. We understood that this was the first time this year that there had been good weather in what had been a wet and cold spring and early summer. Indeed the flight in was so stunning that the pilots were taking photos on their phones too. Some of this scenery is shown below to add a bit of context to where the bears roam.
Ok, we covered the Grizzlies but the other species I really wanted to see on this trip was the Sea Otter. These are quite different to the European Otter we see (if you work hard)in the UK. Sea Otters are essentially permanent marine animals; the European Otter is a land mammal that hunts in the water but can only survive in water for a limited period. Here's a link to my European Otters. The contrast between them is striking and I think that Sea Otters rank very hight in the cuteness rating index. See what you think.
Orca (Killer Whales)
Orca, if you are very lucky come as 'part of the pack' if you are out at sea in this part of the world. There is by no means any guarantee but they take your breath away when you do see them. The couple of pictures here are of individuals in one of the area's 'resident pods'. They live in the area and mainly predate fish (salmon to be particular. There are also 'transient pods' that live quite differently and will hunt seals. Very different. On a prior trip we saw resident Orcas teasing a seal but just not interested in hunting the unfortunate seal - or perhaps it was actually very fortunate!
Steller Sealions are a species local to the North West Pacific coast. They venture south about as far as California (Monteray Bay). Stellers, like so many species are endangered but seem to be making a recovery in recent years as conservation measures have been taken and fishing managed along this coast. Spectacular, the males are very big and rather bad tempered in groups. The colonies here tend to haul out onto small rocky islets in the channels. One other tip, avoid getting down wind of these colonies if you can. The stench (a word used in the true sense of the word) of rotting fish is overwhelming at times.