Published: June 23rd 2012June 20th 2012
Peeps... bears are cool. They are intelligent, curious, powerful, smelly and unbelieveably cool. Black bears (ursus Americanus)
and brown bears (ursus arctos
) are impressive creatures - male grizzlies (as brown bears are known in some places) can grow up to 2m long and 1m to the shoulder, and weigh in at over 200kg, with females between 90 and 120 kg. Black bears are slightly smaller, at 135 kg and 60 kg respectively. Black bears can be red, blonde, grey, blue and white (just to be helpful) and grizzly bears (known for the grey on their fur tips as opposed to a grumpy disposition) can also be not grizzled. So even experts have a tricky time, and for the sake of science, other differences (or not):
1) Grizzlies have the classic teddy bear face with rounder ears (see blurry and piss poor photo) versus the more Roman profile their black cousins
2) Grizzlies have a hump of muscle on their shoulders, which scientists believe arose as they evolved in more grassy areas and needed to stand and defend more often, versus black bears who prefer to high tail it up a tree .. although in some postures can also have
3) Grizzly claws are shorter, say 5cm versus a black bears 10 - 12 cm ..
4) Black bears can run slightly slower than a brown bear ... only 50 kph versus 56 kph ... given a really fast sprinter manages 30 kph, you can see who has the advantage in a fight or flight situation.
5) And males to females - the bloke bears whizz forward and the grrrrl bears whizz backwards. Important to note
: bears defend themselves and their young, and while there are predatory bears who will attack because its in their nature to do so, they are rare. In most instances, unhappy bear -people interactions are the result of people not paying attention to the animals behaviours and the clear rules .. particularly around food. Bears don't like suprises (who does?) and when we are in their habitats we need to let them know we are there, calling out 'Hey Bears!' at regular intervals.
So, fellow bear peepers, that's our spotters guide... hahahaha! If its not the Arctic or China, then best to leave the bear identification to the experts .. in this case the amazing team at Great Bear Nature Tours
. A genuine eco lodge, the company has been offering guided tours to the ursine-obsessed willing and able to sea-plane into a remote location off the coast of BC. The team lead by Margaret from Melbourne, the lodge is powered by wind, sun and water, and was floated up to its current location from Vancouver Island. Moored by four ropes to the land, its staff cottages are charmingly named Pequod, Endurance and Bounty :D
While I did see black bears at a distance in Alaska, I had come to BC specifically to see grizzlies. As I was mooching along the lovely rivers of British Columbia, the bears were preparing for love and finding food. Bears spend much of their time forgaging. Omnivores, the grizzlies at Great Bear Lodge eat many kg of high protein sedge grass after they come out of winter hibernation. In the interests of science, I sacrificed a paleo approach to taste it ... not unpleasant, but so much effort to chew & digest, its no wonder bears have such incredibly strong jaws!! From May to August when the salmon run, the grizzlies range the marshy areas eating grass, berries and crab apples in
the main, and any animal protein that presents. During the salmon run, the male grizzlies who slim down over summer to woo the ladies, will eat around 20,000 calories a day to prepare for the winter ... now that is a committment to fish! This enables them to put on around 23 kg a day, and all of its required for the long hibernation from November to April.
Armed with this intell and geared up within an inch of my life, we had our first boat trip with Susanna in the early evening. Motoring and then rowing, we saw seals & mink & a plethora of birds. Seals who are rightly wary of people, popped out of water - sometimes so close to the boat that the expressions on their faces were quite clear "Damn! Where did you come from?" Another guide Blakely described them as looking like "Labradors, with big eyes & boxy faces." Hunted until very recently by fishermen who paid $5 per nose, the seals are returning, but are sensibly giving people a wide berth still.
I also got my newest favorite species name - "Least Mink": a stunning lack of imagination or simply an
exhausted taxonomist working through the huge number of species and needing one more adjective? It replaces "Little Brown Bat", as a statement of the blatantly obvious- interestingly, for its size, the longest lived animal in the world - around 30 years for a beastie the size of a ring finger!
Lulled by the gentle motion of the boat, my mind drifting along with irrelevant & strangely saucy thoughts, we rounded a bend. Perched in the bow and with Susanna's attention on the fallen log under which we maneuvered, coz bears use them to cross between islands, I was struck by the thought that the rock ahead looked like a bear's arse .. Because it was a bear's arse!! Less than 10 m away. Gesticulating like the village idiot (and grinning in much the same vein if truth be told) I alreted the boat to our first near ... all 90 kg of grizzly gorgeousness munching on sedge and completely disinterested in us. A rich chocolate brown, she momentarily sat back on her hunches and sniffed us. Susanna gently called out "Hey bear ... We see you & we're backing away now" and we retreated to a safer distance.
We stayed with her for around an hour until she wandered off. Thanked by the others for being bear bait (?!?) I was comforted by the fact that had she been so inclined, it would have taken her some time to peel me, in which case we could have made our escape (after everyone had photos of course). All guides are armed with bear spray, a powerful capsicum mixture that will repel bears and any guest wanting to stretch their legs on land needed to be accompanied by an armed guard.
We only saw females, including another beauty the next day, who we tracked & viewed for 3.5 hours, there were big males were in the area. We saw recent activity at a bear wallow where the leaves were still wet from muddy shakes. The grooms bath in an enticing mix of muddy water, urine and skink weed,in preparation to woo the gals with pure swagger!
Female bears may choose to accept the offer from one or several suitors, resulting in cubs with different sires, or to simply say no by sitting down. Females can delay embryo implantation to ensure they are prepared for winter, as they give
birth in their dens. And as we know, never come between a mother & her cubs, because she will attack to defend them - even large males who will kill and eat cubs, for food and because it brings the females into eostrus.
I found the bears beautiful, but not cute. Their physcial presence is far to compelling to think of them as anything other than successful predators - I know some areas permit hunting, including in Alaska where bears are hunted to assist the repopulation of moose. This logic doesn't ring true to me, but the locals relationships with the bears is complex. The recently announced plans by the US congress to build a fence along the Canadian border will probably cause more damage to the bears than any hunting. Bears have roamed these borders in their solitary lives for thousands of generations. The impact of the fence on their continued presence and viability, as well as that of other migratory species like wolves, has been decried by conservation groups in both countries. It will be interesting to see what happens next.
But if bears sex and violence isn't enough , here is your educational, yet pervy
point for this blog. Banana slugs are found throughout the SE Alaskan and BC areas I visited. They hemaphrodites, with their wedding tackle strategically located on their heads next to their eye stalks. once they have located a suitable partner, and do the slug nasty (lots of writhing and slime), they deposit sperm in each other along with fertilised eggs. The slugs then bite at each others' tackle..with the first one through the other's appendage getting to stay a bloke & grrrl slug, and the loser(?) remaining an independent miss. Oh ... Should I have posted a warning on that one? Hehehehe!
And on that note, ciao for now!
There are more photos below