Greetings from Knight Inlet BC Whale and Grizzly Bear Watching country!
As our season moves into July we continue to enjoy great wildlife sightings. The Grizzly Bear viewing in Knight Inlet has been very good since we began sighting them in May. There are lots of mother bears with both first and second year cubs feeding on beach and sedge grass in the river estuary. We have also been viewing many sub-adult (teen-age) bears and some mature males. June and early July is mating season for the bears, so many of our guests have been lucky to view some interesting interactions as the big males come down in search of a mate. A big bonus this year has been the increased number of Grizzly Bears sighted outside of the normal river estuary areas. This is likely an indication that the local populations are growing causing some of the bears to move out in search of new feeding grounds. This is good news for both us and the bears. During the early summer season the bears are still feeding heavily on the sedge grasses which are abundant in the estuary areas. At low tide they also head to the rocky beaches were they feed on shore crabs, eels, mussels and barnacles. With the summer sun comes a wide selection of berries which also make up a large portion of their diet. Currently the salmon berries are out in full swing, with huckleberries and elderberries also beginning to ripen. The black bears are enjoying a similar meal plan, although they usually spend less time on the sedge grass as the Grizzly Bears consider that their territory.
On the whale front the big news this week is the return of the resident Orca to Johnstone Strait. The A-30 group was first spotted on the sixth of July and they have been seen several times since. With the salmon migration in full swing I expect that more of these fish eating Orca will begin arriving in the coming days. Although the resident Orca are known to eat all species of salmon the Chinook Salmon is their preferred prey and makes up the majority of their diet at this time of year. Humpback Whales have been abundant throughout our season. Many of the regular whales to our area have been identified as well as a lot of first time visitors. The numbers of Humpback Whales feeding in our area will likely continue to rise throughout the summer. Transient Orca (mammal feeding) have been spotted on a number of occasions both in Johnstone Strait and Knight Inlet. These whales are in our area year-round, but often travel quietly in smaller groups as they are always on the look-out for an unsuspecting seal or dolphin. The pacific white side dolphins are also around and have treated our guests to some wonderful acrobatic shows. Dall’s harbour porpoise, seals, sea lions, eagles and a variety of marine birds have been rounding out our marine tours this season.
So far 2013 looks like another great year for wildlife viewing. The weather has also been co-operating so we are hoping for more of the same to continue into the summer months. By the end of July we should start to see the first salmon entering our local rivers. By August the bears should start to feed on these fish as they struggle up their spawning rivers. More resident Orca should also be entering our waters with the increased number of salmon. For those of you returning to us for a repeat visit the staff will remain that same in 2013. Glen, George and I will be doing the bulk of the guiding. Madeline will be in the kitchen and Clint will be helping out and care taking the lodge over the winter. I look forward to seeing many of you this season.
The whale watching safaris from Grizzly Bear Lodge has a good chance of finding resident orca or killer whales. The resident orca is the fish eaters while the transient orca are the male eaters and are less common in the summer. This photo demonstrates the difference in size of the dorsal fins between a male and female orca. The males fin can be up to two meters (six feet) while the females are often less than half the height.
Picnic lunches are taken on all day tours. Grizzly bear tours and whale watching trips normally leave the lodge at 8:00 am in the spring and summer and after August 24th at 7:30 am. Whale watching picnic lunches are normally eaten in the boat while drifting with the humpback whales. This most often occurs after a bathroom break in Telegraph Cove. The grizzly bear day’s lunches are eaten on the float tied up in the mouth of Glendale Bay. Eating lunch in a skiff closer to the bears is not a good idea, as they might want to join the picnic, especially if smoked salmon is part of the lunch. The lunches are good with enough variety that even the guides do not become bored with the food and enough food that in my nine years with the lodge we have yet to eat all of a lunch. This photo is from late September as the guests are still wearing their coast against the chill of being on the water.
In the spring quests on the tours from Grizzly Bear Lodge view the bears in the sedge grass. Sedge grass stalks are spiky, wide and stiff but the sedge grass is up to 25% protein, and this is the reason why grizzly bears prefer eating it to other grasses. The spring a grizzly bears diets consist of approximately 70% of sedge grass to replenish their lack of proteins during hibernation. Diets shift with the seasons, as summer approaches the berries start to replace the sedge grass and fall brings the salmon into the Glendale River.
Steller sea lions use land habitat as haul-out sites for periods of rest, molting, and as rookeries for mating and pupping during the breeding season. In this case it is a resting area as they migrate along the coast spending part of their spring and fall in the area where we watch whales. Steller sea lions have been known to migrate large distances (>400 nm) but it is presumed their routes remain coastal. They are solitary hunters but are often seen small groups, but may gather in large “rafts” at the surface near rookeries and haul outs. The haul-pouts are a noisy area as they are capable of powerful vocalizations that are accompanied by a vertical head bobbing motion by males.
Spring grizzly bear tours from Grizzly Bear Lodge require a boat ride up Knight Inlet to the area of Glendale River. At low tide the bears come to the shore to roll the rocks in search of protein or to feed on the sedge grass along the shore. As the tide comes in we are able to move up the river estuary into the river channel and observe the bears on the mud flats. In this case it is a mother grizzly with a third year cub still tagging along. Cubs generally stay with their mother for two years, although they will stay for three or four if the sow does not become pregnant in the fall of their second year.
Although the weather does not look the best it was one of the most interesting experiences of my summer. It was a foggy morning and thus a challenge to find the orca but the whale watching companies work together and being the faster boat on the water we were able to find the orca first. As they came out of the fog we had a hydrophone in the water listening to their calls to help locate them. Two orcas came very close to the boat and stayed on the surface as the calls came over the speaker. These two remained in position for several minutes and did not go back down until the calls stopped. Orcas are members of the dolphin family and at times their curiosity is amazing. Note: as normal the fog lifted by noon and we were able to enjoy an afternoon with humpback whales.
Two of British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest best fishers, a grizzly bear and a bald eagle. This photo was taken in the mouth of Knight Inlet’s Glendale River an estuary, which becomes filled with salmon after mid-August. Once the salmon have arrived the eagles that are normally found along the shore of the Inlet move to the river mouths, as fishing becomes much easier. Eagles are an opportunist feeder and the remains of salmon left by the grizzly bear provide the ideal opportunity for an eagle.
Grizzly bear cubs are born in the den in January or February. Cubs weigh 500 grams (1 lb.) which is less one-tenth as much as human babies and are born blind. Once they have left the womb, the find their way to their mother’s teats where they feed on milk (and grow) until the spring. This photo from early June means the cub is likely less than five months old. The male Grizzly bear’s hibernation ends in early to mid March, while females emerge in April or early May. Although this cub may have been out of the den for little more than one month and is still nursing we observed it eating solid foods.
This photo is either a mother Grizzly with triplets or the middle bear (cub) has a very long and twisted body. Triplets are not uncommon in Grizzly Bear Lodge’s viewing area but they are allot more work for the mother grizzly at this time of the year. That extra mouth to feed and one more cub to keep track of in an area with many other bears means less time to fish. On this day there were other mothers and cubs in the fishing pool and it took time for this family to join the group and feel comfortable enough to start fishing.
The USA Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) has a program to brand Steller sea lions as a means to estimate vital population parameters in the future. The western stock is listed as endangered under the ESA (U.S. Endangered Species Act) and the eastern stock is listed as threatened. The Steller Sea Lion Recovery Team recommended in 2000 that researchers begin branding and marking Steller sea lion pups throughout their range. Most summer we viewing two of three branded sea lions and report them online.