June 08, 2010 | Tips from Travellers >
Prince Rupert, Bear Watching
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Cruising a steady 24 knots, the bright yellow catamaran sped northwards in search of both the legendary grizzly bear and the majestic orca whales. Beads of rainwater streaked across the window, while heavy clouds broke over the piercing Coastal Mountains. This is the North Coast, one of the last few places on earth where grizzlies can be observed in the wild without compromising feeding, mating or behavioral patterns.
Encompassing a 44,300 hectare area of coastal western hemlock, old-growth cedars and rich salmon-bearing streams, the lush Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary was set aside for conservation in 1994 after a UN survey conducted here found an especially healthy and robust population of bears. With a massive range of anywhere between 70 to 200 square kilometers, imagining such a density of bears could only mean two things: access to both ample salmon stocks and plenty of sedge grass.
It was in this particular patch of sedge grass that I realized that these specimens were no more than spoiled-rotten kings of the forest. Munching away contently of a buffet of green, a rather large male glanced over at us quietly snapping photos from the railings. His coat soaked from the rain, he could not have appeared much happier while he dined on the protein-laden plant. When the salmon aren’t around, these bears can eat up to as much as 60 pounds of sedge grass a day. For other foods, these omnivores roam around the park’s three ecosystems – coastal western hemlock, mountain hemlock and alpine tundra consuming small rodents, clams, berries and other mammals along the way. A cough from the silenced crowd rolls the bear from his side, peering dumbfounded through the rain. His button nose twitching at us, he lumbers across the shoreline digging about for other things to eat. His reserved nature and regal entitlements signaled to me that humans are not a threat to these bears, provided everyone kept quiet and stayed on board – which we did!
The shrill cry from an eagle echoes across the inlet, promising excellent glimpses of the famed raptor. Earlier, dorsal fins of the orca sliced through the gray water as harp seals looked on from the rocks, soaking up what sun they can. Overall, a perfect day on the water: a total of four grizzlies, a small pod of orcas, a humpback whale, some seals and a half-dozen eagles rewarded eager sea-life enthusiasts on this beautiful day in June. Coming soon – more whales in August and September when the long-awaited salmon returns, transforming the area into a jungle of feeding frenzy.
Check in with Normand at the Prince Rupert Adventure Tours for tour and wildlife information. The company is a reputable guiding operation with enforced maritime conservation guidelines. The company offers affordable 2 hour to 6 hour tours for families, couples and backpackers alike all having a pretty good chance of seeing something.