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The Bears of Khutzeymateen!   By Tania Simpson

The Bears of Khutzeymateen! By Tania Simpson

To keep things fresh and exciting, from time to time I will try to feature content from other like minded folks here on my site. I met Tania through our shared passion for photography and the great outdoors and quite often we go shooting together. I asked Tania to share her account of a recent trip she took up to northern British Columbia in her quest to photograph wild grizzly bears. Enjoy!

 

For years I’ve dreamed of photographing grizzly bears in their natural habitat at the Khutzeymateen (K’tzim-a-Deen) Grizzly Bear Sanctuary.  So when my 40th birthday was approaching, and my fiancé said let’s do a grizzly tour, I jumped at the chance.  Sure I could have done the cliché thing and gone to Las Vegas, but being the nature nut that I am and having a mild obsession with bears, this was the dream birthday for me.

On the 18 hour drive from my home in the Okanagan Valley to Prince Rupert, I could hardly contain myself.  Two days of driving and I would be venturing into a place where no man or woman was allowed to set foot.

 

The first day of our two day tours arrived and I couldn’t wait to get out on the boat and get moving.  Grizzlies here I come!  Little did I know that the adventure doesn’t start at the Khutzeymateen, but as soon as you leave port.  The tour guides keep a keen eye on the water as we make our way up the coast.  Half hour out, they spotted a humpback whale;  the tour was diverted until we were close enough to see the blow hole as the whale surfaced…and then it happened, it gave us a tail show.  A gray day and gray water weren’t optimal, but this was a humpback whale…you take what you can get and work with it.  Click, click, click…just keep shooting.


On the move again…as the boat pressed on, an assortment of sea birds would fly.  Being the bird nut that I am, I tried to snap shots of them from the back of a boat while travelling at 30 knots….hmmm, not so good but still exciting to see birds I’d never seen before.

Passing a tiny island, the boat began to slow…oh look harbour seals…what a treat to see these creatures up close.  So awkward on land, yet so graceful in the water…click, click, click….and off again.

Entering the Khutzeymateen inlet, my excitement was really starting to build…the search for grizzlies was on.  One thing you must know about being in the Khutzeymateen; no talking is allowed.   Bears are spooked by the sound of voices and the smallest whisper can travel across the water.  They are not bothered by the boats, or the click of cameras, but voices seem to scare them off.

With shoreline on either side of us, we moved slowly searching…45 sets of eyes fixed at the water’s edge; some with cameras, some with binoculars.    Then the signal came from the guide, a female grizzly and cub had been spotted.   So begins the slow approach, closer, closer, closer…and there they are 20 feet away.  Then the boat engine is cut and the silent beauty hits you.  All you hear is the sound of the water lapping the shore and distant birds in the dense forest.  I am in grizzly country looking right at these beautiful creatures.   For a moment I forgot about my camera, watching the bears go about their daily lives; foraging for food.  Wow, am I really here…pinch…nope, it’s not a dream.  So surreal!  And…click, click, click…stop and watch….click, click, click….stop and watch….oh look an otter; yikes, he spotted the bears and he is out of here… time to head back, what an amazing day…but the tour wasn’t over yet.

Almost back at port and the boat stops. The guide climbs to the upper deck and calls to the bald eagles…and here they come…then cut fish is tossed in the water…swoop, swoop, swoop, there are eagles all around us; so close I could reach out and touch them…wow, what a show they gave us. An incredible ending to a perfect day.


The second day was just as amazing as the first. On the first day we only saw one female and cub, the next day we saw the same mother and cub and six other grizzlies. We even photographed a grizzly pooping…not something you see every day 
Then the sad farewell…I hope to return some day. Until then, thank you grizzlies for letting me come into your home.

To see more of Tania’s great work, visit her Flickr page here! Photography Through Tania’s Eye’s!