Not dog-related, but I saw Grizzly Bears!
I first learned of grizzly bear rafting tours a year ago when I drove through Bella Coola, British Columbia, with my mom, but it was July and the bears weren’t out yet. Rob and I returned for a one-day whirlwind trip with one goal: to see grizzly bears.
It’s possible to get there by ferry, but it takes about 20 hours along the inside passage from Port Hardy, B.C., (and first you have to get there). Rob and I flew one hour on a small Pacific Coastal plane from the Vancouver Airport and were met by a staff member from the Bella Coola Mountain Lodge, which also operates the bear tours. Fraser Koroluk and his wife, both biologists, own the lodge and Fraser is the bear guide.
Arriving on the banks of the Atnarko, we were hit with the pungent smell of rotting salmon carcasses; familiar to me, less so to Rob. Fraser paddled us and four others down the Atnarko. Pink salmon were still spawning, and we saw the occasional chinook under our raft as well.
The most bears they’ve seen on a tour is 20, and that was last summer. Sometimes, they don’t see any. About 10 minutes into our tour, just as I thought we might be one of the unlucky groups not to see any bears, there she was, standing on a log. I felt like everyone on the raft saw her at the same time, but Fraser was concentrating on paddling, so my breathless, “Bear,” alerted him.
Since the lodge has been doing these tours for about 14 years, the bears are tolerant of rafts of people floating by, and Fraser is careful to keep a respectful distance.
After watching Goldi devour several whole salmon carcasses and wander back into the woods, we continued downriver where we found Coco and her two-year-old cub Rocky on a gravel bar. Other tour groups have witnessed lively wrestling matches between mother and son (which is how Rocky got his name), but they were moving a little slower on this day.
Even though Coco won’t have more cubs until Rocky is grown and on his own, they also have to eat as much salmon as possible before hibernation – this gorging phase is called hyperphagia. While Coco swam between gravel bars looking for salmon, Fraser observed that Rocky seemed a little bored.
In addition to my utter joy at watching grizzly bears in their natural environment, I really appreciated Fraser’s expertise about grizzly bear life cycles, and these bears in particular. It was also another reminder of the importance of healthy salmon populations.
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