Baranof Island wins top honors for the best bear-watching of the 2014 cruise. We shot thousands of photos, collected a fine store of memories and savored every moment. Hopefully we'll see some of the same grizzlies next year as they come to feast on the returning salmon.
When we share a bay with brown bears it's tempting to linger and spend a few days on anchor. Most of our photography and bear watching takes place in a boat; the big boat, a dinghy or a kayak. Occasionally we hike the shore when conditions are safe, but not very often. Ashore at this site in late July it was comforting to have a stream between us and the bears. It also helped to have waves of returning chum salmon to attract the grizzlies and hold their attention. On our first day here we identified 17 different brown bear. Early the next morning we ran the dinghy to shore to see which grizzlies would reappear. The banks were empty when we arrived, but soon we spotted our favorite sow with her three active cubs. Those cute little guys, about the size of small herd dogs, already display different traits or personalities. One cub cuddled close to its mother, often nuzzling her muzzle or tucking under her belly to suckle. Another more adventurous cub would pause or bravely wander off to investigate an interesting scent, and then had to scramble to catch up with the family parade. The third cub tended to stir things up, always ready to pounce and tussle, to bat at its siblings or even steal their fish.
An impressively large adult, one new to us, approached the stream from our shore... hey, where did she come from?!... strode quickly into the middle of the water and plopped down. This accomplished fisherman reached down with its enormous paws, snagged one fish after another with apparent ease, and ate them without ever changing location. She remained stationary in midstream until the sow and her cubs wandered up the bank into the rocks and disappeared around the point. Only then did the lone bear venture into the recently-vacated shallow area, a prime fishing spot with easier access to schools of fish. (No one messes with a mama bear.)
Another female with a very young cub wandered along the far shore, avoiding contact with the other grizzlies. The adorable little cub resembled a fluffy basketball with legs, bouncing along beside its solid, slow-moving, lumbering mother. That pair remained upstream, far away from us and the more popular fishing spot.
The action slowed, then stopped completely. The grizzlies went on about their business and we reluctantly returned to the boat to raise anchor and move on. Oh, those Baranof Bears!