The last 3 years we have been starting to view sea otters in our area more regularly. They are still often a distance away, but the sightings are increasing with some “rafts” of them developing in areas near the western portion of our whale watching trips. These animals were hunted heavily for their fur and were completely wiped out of British Columbia waters. Re-introduction occurred from Alaskan otters in the 1960’s. They have long been protected and their numbers have been steadily increasing along the exposed BC coast and are now moving back into inside waters. They are unique in that they don’t have the insulating blubber that other marine mammals use to keep warm. As a result they have dense (over 1 million hairs per square inch) fur and feed heavily. They are important in balancing the eco-system. They eat a lot of sea urchins, which eat a lot of kelp. Kelp is extremely important as it provides cover for juvenile fish and is where the herring spawn in the early spring. With the increase in these otters we are seeing a greater abundance and healthier kelp forests.
Eagles are a common sighting around the lodge and on our tours. They eat a variety of foods, but are often sighted. looking for schooling fish such as herring and will frequent the salmon rivers when the fish are running. They mate for life an it is not unusual to see a mating pair. They are hard to distinguish on their own, but when side by side the female is slightly larger and the white feathers on her head tend to come down a bit lower on the neck. With their 5-6′ wingspan they are always impressive when they come down to the water in search of food.
People often ask us if bears swim? It is fairly common to see both Black and Grizzly Bears swimming. Sometimes this may be a means of crossing a river, jumping from one island to another, or in this case going around a steep bluff. Due to our coast line and abundance of islands basically all of the larger mammals that we view do swim. Deer, wolves, and even cougars will swim from island to island in search of food, although many of these sightings are extremely rare. Bears are extremely buoyant so they have no problem paddling across relatively large distances, although they do tend to favour shorter crossings when possible.
In the spring and early summer we view the grizzlies both on the coast and in our smaller estuary boat. At this time of year they are eating sedge grass and feeding in the intertidal areas. It is a wonderful time of year, as the bears are often plentiful and there are often some interesting behaviours. This is also our lower season so it tends to be quite quiet. We have some great views at this time with few other boats.
In August and early September it is common to get some fog while whale watching in the early morning. Usually by eleven this marine layer burns off and we enjoy a sunny afternoon. It can make finding the whales a little more difficult in the early morning, but does make for some peaceful and dramatic scenes. It is amazing how far the sounds of the whale’s blow travels on a calm foggy morning.
We use speedboats to get from the lodge to the bear viewing area. They are fast and comfortable, but draw too much water to be effective for bear watching in the shallow estuary. For that reason we transfer over into a small flat bottomed skiff. Often the guide will use chest waders and just pull the boat along quietly in the shallow waters. This lets us get good views of the bears, without disturbing their routine.
Grizzly Bears all seem to have their own fishing style. Often the larger, more mature bears are far more patient opting to let the calories come to them rather then run around burning calories in hopes of maybe catching a salmon. This bear sat for two hours picking off the occasional pink salmon as it swam by. Initially just due to the bears size we assumed it was a male. After a “better look”, however we discovered that this is in fact a very healthy female Grizzly.
No matter where we are going at Sailcone’s Grizzly Bear Lodge, the guides are always keeping their eyes open for wildlife. This could be a Black Bear on the way to view Grizzlies, an eagle family or in this case a group of Pacific White Sided Dolphins. These dolphins are common in our area and it is not unusual to spot them in large groups. They are incredibly intelligent and often come to us for a closer look.
Grizzly Bears are very comfortable in the water. When the salmon are running they spend a great deal of time in the river often swimming across it multiple times. They are also excellent long distance swimmers easily swimming across Knight Inlet, which is approximately 1 mile wide. Thanks to Britt for the picture