2020 Alaska Flotilla: Leg 5: Day 7: Wrangell | NW Explorations


2020 Alaska Flotilla: Leg 5: Day 7: Wrangell

This morning we were greeted with blue skies and sunshine for our jet boat trip to the Anan Bear Observatory. NW Explorations was able to secure coveted permits for everyone in the flotilla and with fifteen of us, we had our own private boat to take us an hour south to the observatory. The jet boat met us at our dock, we stepped into the fully enclosed cabin with spacious, comfortable seats and large windows. Once we were all settled, we departed the harbor and immediately picked up to cruising speed of 30 mph over the flat calm water.

Once we arrived, we disembarked onto a sandy beach and proceeded up the path to begin our half mile boardwalk tour along the Anan river through a lush rainforest except, today it wasn’t raining. A protected narrow rocky entrance opened to a wide sandy delta. Mergansers were resting on a rock with their wild redish-brown headdresses of swept-back feathers, eagles were patrolling the estuary and pink salmon were thick in the river.

We walked closely together as our guide lead us towards the viewing platform and blind where we would spend the next few hours viewing a spectacular, wild scene. The river meandered through the valley, turned the corner and rumbled through a narrow, rock walled canyon. The vegetation was dense but after a moment of careful observation, it became clear that were surrounded by wildlife.  Adult and juvenile bald eagles, ravens and black bears were in and out of view as they passed through the dense vegetation.

A mama bear and her small cub were climbing and jumping along the boulders looking for the best fishing spot. It wasn’t long before she secured a meal for herself and her cub. As a juvenile bear approached, mama bear made it clear that he was not welcome by snapping her jaws, as her baby cub found safety cuddled next to mom.

More black bears appeared seemingly out of nowhere and each utilized their own fishing technique. Some patiently waited with their paws on the rocks in the rapids, others “snorkeled” with their entire face in the water while others stood quietly by the edge of a shallow eddy and simply grabbed the fish. As soon as a catch was made, the bear would eat the favorite parts, the belly full of eggs and a few more bites of flesh and the eagles and ravens would get the generous spoils.

The scene was ever-changing and riveting. We took turns descending to the “blind”, a camouflaged platform near the water’s edge, where the bears were up close and personal. All the bears were black bears in the first part of the day and they were extremely entertaining. Later, the first brown bear arrived with her two healthy cubs following her.

She did not need any introduction; it was clear that the black bears would need to move over!  She climbed down the rocks with no regard for anyone else, and claimed her territory. She studied the raging water for about a minute and suddenly lunged into the river. She instantly caught a salmon as others leaped away from her. She returned to the rocks, ate the belly and eggs and shared the rest with her cubs while she readied herself for another plunge. She was no-nonsense and very efficient. She was much larger than the black bears and once her fur was wet, her well-muscled body was clearly apparent.

The hours passed quickly and before we were ready, (we were still quite enamored by the brown bear) our guide was gathering us up for the return trip. Luckily, a black bear and her cub parked themselves on the boardwalk in front of the gate so we had a few more precious minutes to wait and watch the brown bear fish. Everyone agreed that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we were extremely fortunate to have witnessed.



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