The day after we visited Alert Bay and Sointula, we went on an excursion in search of Grizzly Bears with Tide Rip Tours. Their boats leave from Telegraph Cove (which is just east of Port McNeill) and head up Knight Inlet in search of bears feeding along the littoral zone. The typical tour heads to Glendale Cove where everybody changes boats to slowly motor up the estuary. Here’s a map of our trip; you’ll notice that we went well beyond Glendale Cove. More on that later. [The yellow line below is our drive from Campbell River to Cluxewe Campground and then to Telegraph Cove; the red line is our boat trip with Tide Rip Tours.]
There were 10 of us on the tour this morning: us and 2 other Americans; 2 Germans; 2 Australians; and 2 Brits (Vancouver Island, it turns out, is a favorite tourist destination for Germans, in particular). Like most boats in the Samish Sea (which includes Puget Sound), our boat, the “Silver Bear,” was aluminum:
We first came upon a Black Bear sow and her cub and then a Grizzly sow and her two (sorry about the picture quality of the Black Bears, since that was our first sighting, I hadn’t yet set my lens up properly).
The Grizzly is easily distinguished by its shoulder hump, elevated forehead, and coloration (faded brown with darker legs, giving it a “gizzled” look, as noted by Lewis and Clark who supposedly gave the Grizzly its moniker).
Grizzly cubs are normally born in January or Fedruary after 6 to 7 months gestation while the mother is in hibernation. One-year-old cubs are known as “COY,” short for “Cub of the Year.” These Grizzly COY were tumbling around on the rocky shore while mama turned over partially-submerged rocks in such of food. They were fun to watch. Mama Griz was watching, too – never letting her cubs stray far by themselves.
Further up river we came upon a 2-year-old Grizzly, out on its own. This bear was pretty scrawny, apparently still getting the hang of fending for itself.
Notice the claws: another feature of the omnivorous Grizzly. They use them at this time of the year to pull up the rocks along the water’s edge in search of Gunnel Eels. Here’s what Gunnel Eels look like in human hands:
We had spotted 14 bears on our way up river to the estuary where bears are expected. The crew spotted two more there through binoculars.
But, when offered the option to either keep searching for bears or explore further up Knight Channel, we all opted for the latter, including the grizzled Brit behind Dale who was on this tour his 8th time.
It was a good decision, very scenic in the fjord, watching the water change color the further we went as the glacial meltwater flowed toward us. And on the way back to Telegraph Cove, we got to see one more Black Bear!