By Janelle Eklund
It was fun to watch the teenage bears who were still trying to perfect the fine art of securing a meal. These bears are often on their own and it's tough trying to make a living after just being booted out of the nest, so to speak. They expend a lot of energy chasing, jumping, splashing, and pouncing. Once in awhile they might be successful. One salmon was making a fast run for its life, its dorsal fin streaming halfway out of the water. The bear was in hot pursuit, totally focused, chasing it up on the bank, literally at our feet. Beyond the sound of splashing water you could hear hundreds of click, click, click, click.... 15 camera shutters desperately trying to catch the action. At this point it was impossible for the bear not to see us. He just looked at us as if to say 'Oh' and turned away continuing in the hot pursuit of salmon.
After filling the belly the running and pouncing looked to become a game of comedies. As soon as one salmon was caught, movement of another escaping salmon caught the bear’s eye. The one in the claws was immediately dropped for the glory of the chase of another.
The best part of the salmon is the skin, rich in fat, and bears are very adept at using their claws and teeth to strip it perfectly from the bodies, as easy as peeling a banana. I couldn't do as good a job. Gulls continually scream at the bears - give me some!! -give me some!! Bears are generous and leave plenty but you would think the gulls are getting a raw deal the way their high pitched screams don't let up. Part of it too is fending off other gulls. Greed seems to get the best of them. Bald Eagles also take their turn at securing a good meal amongst the frenzy.
While mom fished, cub twins played at boxing, rolling, and chasing, oblivious to where we stood on the viewing platform, very near, clicking away. They interrupted their play momentarily, as they walked within a few feet of the platform eyeing us gawking at them. We must have looked and sounded like weird creatures to them: five legs (two of our own and three on the tripod), a very long big nose (lens), and communicating with very strange clicking sounds. Mom was in the background contemplating which salmon to pounce upon, ignoring the play and weird creatures.
At some point mom takes a break, lays on her back, and lets her cubs nurse salmon enriched milk. Once bellies are full families of bears lounge along the sandy banks, basking in the satisfaction of a good days work. Long naps are only interrupted to stretch or put a leg around a loved one.
The salmon run was prolific, bears were rewarded with fat for the long winter, and photographers went home happy, cameras full of 'clicked' images of the great finale of the season.
From my light to yours-
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.