Brown bear watching and wildlife tours on the wild coast of Katmai National Park in Alaska.
Brown bear watching & wildlife tours on the coast of Katmai National Park, Alaska
Katmai Coastal Bear Tours
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Bears Journal Day One.....
by Guest Photographer Scott Strelecki
all photos on this page Scott Strelecki hour's flight from Kodiak City we lift into mornings low hung scattered clouds. Dodging our way through snow capped mountains sitting high over lush green alders dotted with purple splashes of Lupine growing vivid against the greenery. Between picturesque valleys, out across the Shelikof Straight. Calmly above whale spouts and salmon fisherman, a history is revealed. Dean, a float plane pilot with knowledge of the straight and airways brings to light the mountain ranges, the sea and its Russian and American heritage. As the plane dips left, he positions for a smooth landing into Kukak Bay. The Aleutian Range and Katmai Mountain swallow the horizon. The bay is still, almost like it is resting in the diffused light, as the sun burns off the remaining cast of sky, presenting a day before me unlike any other day I had ever visited.

We board a research vessel, the MV Waters, which will be home for the next 7 days. Katmai Coastal Bear Tours, which is owned and operated by John Rogers, offers first class hospitality. Along with his entourage of fine on board chefs, skiff operators and world class bear guides. John presents an adventure to clients ranging from Discovery Channel film crews to retired folks traveling the world. Wasting no time after introductions our bear guide Buck Wilde, a man who quite literally holds the spirit of the bear and its world deep within his soul, is eager to venture us into bear country. It is important to understand the choices that you make in life, for only you can be responsible for the consequence. It has been a long time dream of mine to be at one with nature. I felt, no, I trusted that my vision to approach nature on its terms had to be possible. That with respect, common sense, caution and research entering bear country would be a choice that on some level would effect the rest of my life.

On a shore not too far off the bow of the Waters, an adolescent male bear tosses large flat rocks aside as if they were made of styrofoam. Underneath are mouth loads of Blennies, a small 4-5 inch long fish that can be found caught in tidal pools. All at once as if from nowhere, I am in bear habitat. I am learning of an ecosystem that sustains these coastal bears. No different a brown than the Kodiak or Grizzly. In fact no different a species than a Polar Bear, just a bear that has taken a different path and developed a behavior to set it aside from other bears to become known as a Coastal Brown Bear. The skiff, a small boat designed to do shore runs from a larger ship, takes us further on across the bay. We approach eaglets perched in a nest atop a weathered sea stack; their heads tilt and bob as we approach around their sentinel view. The sea stack marks as entrance to a quiet cove worlds away from life as we know so well. It seems a courtship of bears has gone awry, and that the female has nestled herself amongst a bush surrounded by daisies out on a cliff far from the reach of a pursuant male. Buck and I set up our tripods and wait to photograph moments of graceful beauty as the brown bear lifts its head to check the breeze for troubled scent. Tidal waters are rising we are forced ashore where time has sent the male to feed on sedge grass, but gazing upward occasionally as if he was waiting for his female to have a change of heart. We photograph the male brown bear and he grants us permission to come in close. For the first time in my life, I am standing in the presence of a great predator. The ambient light filters through his powerful profile, highlighting the prominence with which he carries himself. The tell tale hump that forms at the shoulders made of muscle from years of flipping rocks and digging clams. His massive head weaving in the sedge grass as he forages for the protein that will carry him through winter. And last, his cautious gaze as he affirms our position relative to his plan for moving on, and it was over. In a bears environment you must give into the fact that only by the decisions that you make can you help to create a safe bear encounter. A bear's life thrives on instinct, gestures and intent. Along with his enhanced senses of smell and hearing, a bear is constantly making decisions that are best for him. Your choices have to be best for the bear also. We waded on through the drowning rice grasses around the point that embraced the cove, to the opposite side of the sea stack that held the two eaglets. Rather large at this time of year, it will not be long before they drop on to a current and take their majestic qualities to flight. Today however holds a challenge as a curious adolescent brown bear scales the seaward side of their rock perch entering onto the nest. The eaglets in all their innocence and beauty remain stationary with restless hisses toward threatening danger. The giant bear eases his head well within striking distance. The moment is still as everyone holds their ground, in another classic moment as two species encounter one another the curious brown bear moves on. Truly amazing visions of Alaska's grandeur flow through my head. The skiff ride back to the MV Waters is like a dream, the evening last forever and sleep comes late as thoughts of coastal bears graze through my head.... 
It is a well-known fact that this location holds the highest concentration of brown bears anywhere in the world. As beautiful as this sounds it is equally as sad to know that this sanctuary is one of the last untouched frontiers for the bears. Even in this protected habitat poaching still occurs. It is a known fact that bears have a low reproduction rate, and that the survival rate of even 3 year old bears (which is the age that mothers send their offspring out on their own) is very low. Coupled with occurrences in nature, such as last years warm rainy winter. You can see the need to take on roles toward conservation. Conservation does not necessarily have to be in the form of money, nor does it have to overtake your daily life with hours invested in fighting causes. Conservation can come by adopting true insights towards nature, and help to dispel horrifying myths that have been tagged to animals such as Wolves and Bears. Simply, conservation can spread word of mouth from old to young. A walk amongst the bears has changed my life. Now, I will walk amongst the world an advocate for their protection........


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Katmai Coastal Bear Tours
Homer, Alaska 99603
Phone 1-907-235-8337

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