Until now we have been shut out of bears. For a trip that professes to be a whales and bears trip, disappointment was setting in. “Don’t worry, this morning we will see bears!” Encouraging words from our fearless leader, but I could see the concern in his face. Even Captain Ben tried to cheer up our leader. But, that had little affect. Today is our last chance to see bears.

We pulled into a cove at an island where only a few human habitants dare to reside. You see, there are a lot of bears there. So, they say.  We trekked a short way up a ramp and around a makeshift building to a small waterfall where the salmon flow. If there are salmon, then there usually are bears. That’s an Alaskan adage that has held true since there were salmon and bears. We walked up a slight hill to the crest and peered over.  To our astonishment there were bears, four of them, a mother with a cub and another mother with a cub. Out came the cameras. Rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat.

Pay attention, the fish is here! [photo by Kathryn Dannay]

Let me show you how it’s done, my son (or, maybe daughter)

Excuse me, excuse me, are you done with that salmon yet?

Using the foamy water as a background helps the bear stand out. Check out that salmon, wiggling away.

The mothers left after eating many salmon. They don’t eat the entire salmon, just the roe from a female.  The bear sits in a stream and picks out a prospective salmon. Once captured it takes a quick look then discards it when not a female. I’m not sure how the bear can tell. Once the bear captures a female salmon, it digs in with roe as its target. With the roe found, the bear squeezes the salmon, forcing the roe out on a rock. A few slurps later the rock is clean. The rest of the salmon is discarded, allowing Alaska’s best scavenger, the bald eagle, to dig in. When the bear’s hunger is somewhat sated, it takes off to rest.

I think the eagles were disgusted by the salmon roe.

Sittin’ on a rock, snacking on a salmon.

We all caught our breath, arms aching from holding our cameras (with very long lenses). A little while later a mother with three spring cubs arrived. The cubs are so small and so cute. Arm and neck pain are magically forgotten. It’s a home run! Rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat.

Triplets! [photo by Kathryn Dannay]

Mom took the last salmon “to go” as the triplets bounded after her [photo by Kathryn Dannay]

The family leaves signally our time to follow suit, the bear family to its den, us to our boat, all completely satisfied. The old Alaskan adage rang true once again.

To our leader, all is forgiven.

Looks like the salmon is playing dead. Well, maybe not playing.

“Alaskan Standoff”