Viewing Grizzlies at Knight’s Inlet in the Rain
Including a rare image of :- Four 7 month old cubs on their first swimming lesson
Ever since we’d heard about the Grizzlies at Knight’s Inlet, in Glendale Cove BC, we had been trying to plan a visit there and hopefully to see them feeding on the salmon. Finally, in September, this year we managed to get there.
The trip there started with a drive up to Campbell River, on Vancouver Island, an interesting old fishing town, where we had an overnight stay at the excellent new Comfort Inn. Early next morning we took a Vancouver Island Air float plane flight across to Knight’s Inlet. The flight was very scenic and gave a good, first impression of the interior of BC Coast, part of the Pacific temperate rain-forest. After the 40 minute flight we landed at Glendale Cove, an uninhabited locality that was the site of a former cannery until it closed in the late 1940s and now the site of a spectacular floating lodge, which would be our accommodation for our stay.
After safety talks and a tour of the facilities it was time to get ready. We were told to dress in the special waterproof/windproof clothing, which was provided, and we set off on our first excursion, a boat tour of the inlet. The weather was not particularly good with cloud and light rain. It was spectacular scenery with forested, rocky cliffs plunging into the clear, cold water of the longest fjord in BC, but not any Grizzlies in sight. Golden Eye, Harbor Seals, Mergansers and a Raven were the sum total of the sightings. On returning to the lodge we were told that a bear had been wandering along the rocks at the back of the lodge, in front of our room.
After a delicious, hot lunch we were off again on out next excursion, this time to Finger Point viewing stand above the the Glendale River flowing from the salmon spawning area in search of Grizzlies. By now the light rain had turned into a continuous downpour, but dressed in our waterproof suits, this time including wellingtons, we were warm and dry. We travelled first on a boat across the fjord, then a short muddy walk to an old logging road. We were shown Grizzly bear tracks in the mud before we clambered aboard vehicle to take us deep into the forest to the viewing stand. Before we disembarked there were safety talks, on how to behave around bears and on the stands.
Having seen numerous nature documentaries of Grizzlies feeding on the salmon we were excited at the possibility of seeing this in the wild. On looking down on the river, through the rain, we could see a weir with some white water and tree trunks in the water with a steep bank on the side opposite the viewing stands. Feeling a little disappointed we looked more closely and could vaguely see dark shapes in the river.
Our group of six slowly and quietly made it’s way to the furthest viewing stand. The stand had ample space for the six of us and our camera equipment. Looking down into what we thought was a dark, muddy river we realised that it wasn’t mud but thousands of salmon running back up to their spawning ground.
A break in the rain revealed that the large dark shapes were in fact a mother grizzly and her two yearling cubs, feasting on the salmon and playing in the white water.
Suddenly, below us two male sub adult grizzlies appeared and proceeded to join the other bears snorkeling for the salmon. A method of catching the salmon that the bears of this area seemed to have learnt, although not always successfully. When they were successful they grasped the fish between their claws. We could clearly hear the bones crunching as they gorged on the salmon, and the roars and grunts as they tried to steal from each other. Views of them play fighting and swimming underwater in pursuit of salmon, then shaking the excess water from their fur gave us ample opportunities to observe their behaviour.
Amazingly, more grizzles kept appearing from the far shore and down stream. This time a mother and four, seven month old cubs. We could not believe how lucky we were to see them walking along a log that went from the bank into the water. The cubs obviously didn’t like the water and headed straight back out and clambered along the rocky bank while their mother dived in the water in search of food. She was excellent at fishing, as each time she appeared at the surface with a fish in her mouth.This must be why she had successfully raised four cubs. Eventually she persuaded the cubs to cross the river to come to her and eat.
More bears appeared climbing over the fallen trees in the river, including a large male who made the two sub adults move further along the river. We think we saw a minimum of thirteen individuals. In spite of torrential rain this was the most amazing experience and everything we had hoped for, but the day was not over yet. We completed the return journey back to the lodge and after hot drinks and snacks we were once again getting dressed to go out on a boat to explore further up the fjord.The cloud level now was very low, the heavy rain was now freezing cold and the promised views of the magnificent waterfall were disappointing as we could only see the very bottom of it. It was impossible to see through the rain so looking for wildlife was unsuccessful. Therefore it was time to return to the lodge to get warm and dry and ready for the excellent evening meal and wine.
2nd Day at Knight Inlet.
The next morning was sunny with a blue sky and before returning on the float plane there was one more excursion, another boat trip this time to the marshy area of the fjord, to look for bears feeding on the luscious grass, berries and the stranded salmon. Travelling as far as we could before the water became too shallow, through stunning scenery we had our first distant view of a bear.
After yesterday, when we had been so close to the bears, this was disappointing, but then in a narrow channel in front of us a bear appeared grazing on the vegetation, fattening himself up before winter, then he descended the muddy bank into the water, crossing right ahead of the boat. There were more views of bears, some of them only in the distance.
In the better light the Bald eagles showed like white golf balls in the trees on the shores. It was an unforgettable experience with such excellent food and accommodation it was a shame to leave but for us it was time to head back and take the float plane returning to Campbell river to continue the adventure this time to look for Black bears in the Pacific Rim National Park near Tofino.
Much too short a time for such a spectacular location.