The Northern resident orca we view on tour from Grizzly Bear Lodge live in large family groups called pods, with multiple pods making up a population or community. The pods consist of related matrilines, with each matriline often containing 3 or more generations. The head female or matriarch leads each pod, as orca is a female dominated species. The matriarch tends to be the oldest female in the extended family. Her experience and knowledge guides the pod, and the matriarch teaches younger whales about everything from parenting skills, feeding tactics, and navigation through the vast territories that they cover. The pods in our area may be as small as three orca or more than fifteen.
This photo was taken from the viewing stand on Knight Inlet’s Glendale River. Grizzly Bear Lodge is permitted to use the stands after August 24th. By this time the salmon have been in the river for close to two weeks and the bears have come to the area to fatten for the winter, because of the abundance of pink salmon. Grizzly bear mothers and cubs are common in the viewing area and this photo has yearling triplets below the stands keeping close attention on another bear fishing in the other end of the pool (30 meters away). This area of the pool is to deep for the cubs to try fishing so mother catches and brings the salmon to them on shore; but she also keeps an eye on other grizzly bears fishing in the area.
Grizzly bears are not the only fishers in the area of Grizzly Bear Lodge that have their own style of fishing. Eagles are often seen picking fish off the surface of the water as we travel up Knight Inlet to the grizzly bears or to Johnstone Strait to view the whales. However in most cases they are grabbing herring or small fish not necessarily a salmon the size that the eagle in the photo has caught. A fish this size often means a swim to shore by the eagle. Yes eagles do swim but not by choice. It normally occurs when the salmon caught is too big to lift out of the water and they use their wings to swim to shore. If they are observed from a reasonable distance they will swim with the fish in their claws however if approached to close I have seen them release the catch and fly away. This is a rare photo and should not be expected on a daily basis even though there are many opportunities for eagle pictures on each tour from the lodge.
Your first evening at Grizzly Bear Lodge normally involes an hour plus boat ride to find black bears. This is after you have been shown your rooms, eaten fresh caught crabs or prawns, had a talk about the lodges night light because we are on a generator etc. The black bears are often the hardest wildlife to find as the first requirement is a low tide so there will be a beach and even with a low tide if there are an abundance of berries (black berries, huckle berries, salmon berries, thimble berries, salal berries …) they do not come to the beach. Often the black bears are viewed on the tours to find whales or while on the trip up Knight Inlet to view the grizzly bears.
The why of this grizzly bear’s style is that her front paw was damaged in a fight with another bear so she is unable to hold the salmon against a rock and balance to eat. She is an excellent fisher and catches all the salmon she can eat and is getting quite fat in preparing for hibernation. As time has progressed she has become very adept and developed her own fishing and eating methods and it is time that will determine if she heals over the winter and we see her back next year.
The grizzly bear tours from Grizzly Bear Lodge spend two hours on the viewing stands in the Glendale River after the 24th of August. While on the stands we are able to observe the grizzly bears feeding on both sides of the stands, the natural river and the holding pond, which is the entrance to the spawning, channel. The holding area is a little deeper than the river and bears have developed their own technique for eating the salmon they catch. Some grizzlies take the salmon to shore and hold it against a rock to strip off the desired parts. This bear has developed it’s own style which is it sit (“like in a bathtub”) and hold the salmon against its leg. Why? See tomorrow’s post.
Great photo of a humpback whales lunge feeding but not completely successful. Your guide does not look for herring which is the main food of the humpbacks in Grizzly Bear Lodge’s whale watching area rather we look for seagulls. The diving ducks feed on the herring, which form a tight ball to avoid being eaten. The herring balls are forced toward the surface by the ducks and this attracts the gulls, which attract the guides. We position the boats near the gulls and herring balls and wait for the humpback whales. Not all quests manage to get a photo as the waiting game does predict the exact time the lunge will occur but the experience is better than the picture.
Many mornings in August and September start with a low layer of fog over the area surrounding Grizzly Bear Lodge. This fog is short lived as it normally burns off by noon. The boat used for whale watching is equipped with radar and all the guides have a personal GPS with routes programmed to allow them to navigate in the fog. Whale watching is not a “solo” experience as we are in radio contact with two or three others “whale watchers” and share our search. Unlike Victoria on the southern tip of Vancouver Island a busy day in our area may involve eight boats watching whales in a rather large area while Victoria may have fifty boats in a similar sized area. This photo is of a male resident orca that passed beneath the boat as surfaced in the fog.
Grizzly bear watching in the Glendale River estuary, which are an hour and a quarter’s boat ride up Knight Inlet from the Lodge, starts in late May and may last into October. Although the viewing after August 24th normally takes place from the viewing stand up the river this does not mean there are not grizzly bears in the river mouth. If time permits after spending the allotted two hours in the stands, and the tide is right, a trip up the river may be productive. As the tide rises it is possible to travel up the river and view bears along the shore or in this case in the sedge grass. In the spring all viewing is in the estuary and is very productive with many mothers and cubs in the area.
The grizzly bear tours from Grizzly Bear Lodge travel up Knight Inlet to the viewing stands, which overlook the spawning channel on the Glendale River. On either side of the stands we have the natural river and the entrance to the spawning channel. Both of these contain thousands of salmon that are in the river to spawn. It is this abundance of salmon that attract the grizzly bears to the area and many mothers and cubs come as the fishing and more important the catching is easy. Although they prime motivator is to fatten for the winter hibernation as this photo shows there is always time to play, especially for the cubs.