August 15, 2008

Hallo Bay is the ‘eden’ of the Katmai Coast. Meadows filled with wildflowers and tall grass, incredible rocky islands with towering sea cliffs and the Hallo Glacier feeding the bay. The river from the glacier to the shore is prime feeding grounds for the local bears and so our first excusion was an early morning run in the skiff to catch the low tide. The Katmai coast has a 25 foot variance in tide level which makes for fast running tides and huge tidal flats. It was on one of these flats that we set up amongst a group of 5 bears. A fog bank rolled in shortly after we arrived so we could only hope for some ‘artistic’ shots, but the bears gave us such a performance anyway! One blonde female found a piece of wood about 4 feet long and used it to scratch her head with. When that failed to suffice she picked up a piece of driftwood that was 18′ feet long and used that to scratch her neck! The only male bear on the flats was cartoon like in both appearance and character as he sat in various yoga-like positions beside the stream waiting for fish to go by. He was also infamous for stealing fish off of the younger bears and had been dubbed Bandit. We watched him in action as he allowed the young female to catch a big ‘silver’ and then chased her down. She put up a short fight but then was forced to drap the fish, whereupon Bandit grabbed it in midair and walked off with his breakfast. After the next fish she caught she made a beeline for the meadow and galloped into cover so as not to loose another meal. Apparently sometimes these young bears will come and sit next to the humans to eat their fish so that the older bears will stay away. Another enormous male appeared on the scene that was the largest bear we had seen so far. He was a new bear to the area as far as the guides knew and he was not fully aware of the ‘rules’ where humans are concerned. Normally males will walk by and not show any interest in humans, but this one got within 20 feet and was exhibiting body language that our guide (Bill) did not like. Bill immediately stepped between us and the bear and stepped towards him saying “That’s far enough bear.” in a firm voice. The bear considered his options for a moment so Bill ‘bluff charged’ for a few steps and the bear changed course and headed away. Bill said in ten years of guiding he has only used his flare 4 times. Our hearts were pounding none the less.

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news41Our afternoon excusion was a special treat as were met up with guide and photographer Kent Fredrickson. Kent camps at Hallo Bay for two months each summer and has an intimate knowledge of the area and wildlife. He took us to where he knew the females would be hanging out on a bend in the river. The females, he explained, loved having humans around because it made them feel safe from the older males. He also explained that when they have cubs, they occasionally will use humans as a baby-sitting service and leave the cubs with a trusted human while they go off fishing. I have read this in accounts of other people such as Charlie Russel and Timothy Treadwell, and it appears to be true. In any case, he explained that the bears were quite lazy today as the tide was not great for fishing. We sat and watched them dig ‘belly holes’ to sleep in the beach. One 12 year old female named Paula was so comfortable in our presence that she decided to take a bath in front of us. She looked like a lady in a day spa and kept glancing over to make sure we were watching her. Kent has kept track of the bears in Hallo and has known many of them for their entire lives, from cubs to 12 years old. He explained that there were no cubs on the coast this year as they did not make it through the winter or were killed by male bears. He expects a large number of cubs for next year as a result. This in itself will be reason to return.

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