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PostPosted: Fri Oct 08, 2010 5:31 am 
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The Great Bear Rain Forest

Sept 29 – Oct 6 2010

I thought I would do a little bit more of a write-up beforehand just in case anyone is interested in this outing or something similar in the region.

For anyone interested in bears this is the trip for you... not only will you see amazing scenery and wildlife but Grizzlies, Black Bears and Kermode Bears (Spirit Bears... more on them later) abound... and let’s not forget the salmon run and whales. Sometimes wolves are seen on this trip as well but none were sighted by us. Depending on the time of year Orcas are also numerous in the area.

This trip was taken on the Ocean Light II which is an ocean 71 and which served as our home for the trip’s duration. The sail boat is owned and operated by Tom Ellison and accompanying him on this trip as cook was an old friend of mine Susan from Haida Gwaii. There were 10 of us total on this trip plus Tom and Susan all of which were photographers including one who has done assignments for National Geographic and many other organizations named Mike Beedell. He is also in the process of writing his 4th book. The trip is set up for a maximum of 9 people but Mike joined us at the dock at the last minute as he had just completed the previous tour and was scheduled to head to Vancouver Island for some underwater photography but had to postpone the trip due to weather. I must say his stories, sense of humour and knowledge were extremely appreciated by all. Accompanying us as well was Isobel Groc who was with me this spring on the whale photography trip to Haida Gwaii. Needless to say this was an amazing experience not only in regards to scenery and wildlife but also when it came to tapping into some amazing minds in regards to photography and environmental issues in the region.

Tom runs a tight ship but one needs to understand that this is necessary when it comes to bears as there may well be times when you come within 1.5 meters of a bear. I myself had a Spirit Bear as well as a Black Bear come within this range and with Tom present never felt uncomfortable in any of these situations. If an accident does occur help is hours away by plane so it is easy to understand why rules must be adhered to.

The photography trips run by Tom, he also runs other trips to other areas, are also very serious and professional so be prepared to be out all day, every day in all weather but again... it is well worth it.

Although in a large sail boat whale encounters where also numerous on this trip and even though the boat is not as manoeuvrable as a zodiac, being higher up allows for some shots when the whale is under water if they come close enough. We had one rub itself against the hull of the boat to remove barnacles and then literally observe us from within 2 meters of the boat for at least 1 hour. At one point he was spy-hopping me and the tip of his mouth was less than a meter away from my lens.

We also had the privilege of being introduced to Brian Faulkner who along with Ian McAllister was instrumental in founding the Great Bear Rain Forest with Brian facilitating the tours for Ian and others to bring to light the region and its amazing and unique wildlife and habitat to the world. Doing a tour at the same time as we were on ours allowed us to talk with him on several occasions throughout our trip as we crossed paths more than once. Learning the history of their fight to protect this incredible area of our planet was enlightening to say the least. Their struggle however with logging, hunting and fisheries still continues as much still needs to be done to protect this region.

I could not talk about this trip without telling everyone a bit about Mike Beedell. He is a professional natural history photographer who has travelled the world on assignments for many people including, as mentioned above, National Geographic. His trips include a lot of Arctic expeditions as well as the Antarctic including several lasting over 3 months and covering 5000+ kilometres on dog sled and kayak. His constant companion for the last 18 years has been a stuffed animal called Toukie and images can be found of Toukie taken around the world including the one below taken on our trip by me. As Mike puts it...”Toukie is still trying to find his place in this world.” Yes... Mike is a very unique individual who you won’t soon forget once you have travelled with him. While on this trip I had the chance to view many of his pictures and some of his most stunning for me were of humpbacks in the Dominican shot underwater while free-diving with them. Mike is an amazing man and I hope to go on an expedition with him again soon. I was invited to join him on this year’s diving with humpback expedition but I already have other plans. I am hoping to join him this summer in the high Arctic north of Baffin Island for Belugas, Walruses, Polar Bears, Narwhals and Bowhead Whales if the trip pans out... if not then in the summer of 2012 for sure.

Shooting these bears was not easy. Although we had no rain until the last day it was cloudy a lot and with steep mountain gorges to shoot in daylight was short. ISO didn’t fall below 800 often and was over 1600 just as often and even then shutter speeds were usually around 300 or so. Tripods helped but it’s not easy to carry them over a lot of the terrain. When we did have sun we were for the most part shooting the Spirit Bear which is white which created a whole new dilemma but if you were patient and took your time you did get your shots. The bears here are for the most part on the move constantly slowly patrolling the banks searching for salmon. When they catch one they take their time eating it and if you are lucky and they feel safe they will do it right on the shore within a few meters of you but if they feel threatened at all they will move just inside the tree line out of sight.

Gear wise I got along well with the 7D and 50D bodies along with the 100-400, 24-105, 100 macro and a 400 prime. A 600 prime would have been interesting to have but is not necessary. Don’t forget lots of memory cards, I have 8 – 8 gig cards and 2 – 16 gig cards and barely had enough memory. Most importantly ensure you bring with you a good rain cover for your camera. Pack light and mobile as hiking is involved up river beds and through heavy rain forest at times. I personally still prefer travelling with a pelican case in this area as rain is always a possibility and the humidity is constant throughout the trip. Add to that having your base camp on the ocean and having to travel to shore each day and also doing a lot of shooting from a zodiac when it came to Grizzlies and the pelican case made sense for me. This was the first long outing I did with the Black Rapid dual strap and I must say I was extremely impressed as were most others on the outing. Being this close to bears means staying extremely still and quiet. Shooting a 100-400 most of the time was great, the Nikon shooters were shooting the 200-400 most of the time, but as the bear slowly approached and got really close it was extremely easy for me to slowly lower one camera and then work with the other with absolutely minimal of movement while transferring from one to the other. I can honestly say none of my movements while switching caused any reaction from the bears, even when they were within a few meters. It proved to be an essential item for me and the freedom, mobility and quick access proved to be invaluable to me. A second camera body is also good if not essential to take. Not only does it make you more versitile but the last thing you want is to have your body malfunction or break and not have a backup. On this trip we had 10 photographers with a total of 24 bodies. 2 of those bodies ended up malfuctioning due most likely to humidity/moisture. It's better to be safe than sorry when in such remote areas or on such long outings.

For an enjoyable trip personal gear is just as important. Again the most important thing is rain gear. A light rain coat just won’t cut it, keep in mind that you are in a rain forest which receives over 3 meters a year. Make sure it is of high quality as rain can be constant all day long and you will get it hooked on branches and other objects so the material needs to be tough. Bring lots of layers of cloths with a good under layer as temperatures change constantly as does your activity. A good comfortable pair of high rubber boots for walking creeks is also a must as are a pair of other comfortable walking boots/shoes. A hat, sunscreen, gloves and insect repellent are also a good idea but I tend to stay away from insect repellents as they can play havoc on and destroy lens and/or filter glass. For this trip we also had to bring a sleeping bag. Now... when you are planning all this keep in mind that if any part of your journey involves a float plane trip as ours did you will be restricted to about 26kg of total gear and maybe even less so be sure to inquire about weight restrictions/limitations if it is not mentioned. With this in mind make sure to pack light but most importantly pack smart. If, after all this, you still have a kilo or so of room to spare a laptop is great to bring along if for no other reason than for daily photo backup.

Simply put, for extended outings like this, plan well and pack smart with good gear as anything less can literally make for a miserable outing. If your outfitter does not have a suggested gear list ask for one. Any reputable outfitter will have one and they will know better than anyone what you will need to make your outing an enjoyable one.

What was supposed to be our last day out proved to be our third last day as we got caught in storm force winds and had to duck into cover. Reports of water spouts all around us we reported for an entire day. Under these circumstances, although we were safe in the boat, float planes couldn’t fly and seeing our only way out was by float plane we had to hunker down and ride out the storm for 2 days. Even this however didn’t dampen the spirit of the trip as the group chemistry was amazing. When a window in the weather finally did break we managed to get out but flying out we did spot one last water spout out the otter’s window.

Kpr... without a doubt this would be a trip for you!!!

Pictures will follow when I get home next week some time... scary thought but I even took a shot at some landscapes. Hopefully the natural beauty of the area will make up for my utter lack of talent when it comes to these types of shots.

_________________
Canon 7D + 50D + EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM + EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM + EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 9:09 pm 
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Slowly making my way home but thought I would post some pics of our home for the trip as well as some of the people and gear...

The Ocean Light II which was our base for the trip. We used the zodiac for runs to shore and also as a shooting platform for some of our time spent with the grizzlies.

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People and their gear...

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We always hear people talk about how rough one can be with cameras... this is by no means too rough but as you can see in the following pic there are several bodies laying on the log. At least 6 times while sitting on this log cameras were knocked off the log and on to the ground.. not a long fall but the grass was wet and the ground was covered with water puddles, rocks and mud. Just an average day for camera abuse out here.

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This is Steve, an engineer from Alberta and a semi-pro photographer who loves bears and the wilderness. If you are ever in Banff chances are you will see some of his photo prints for sale in the local shops. I took this pic cause Steve is a towering man but as gentle as a giant. He kinda looks like a cuddled up bear here but as always, his camera is ready and close by.

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Mike and Toukie, again... I don't pretend to know how to photograph people :oops:

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Brian Faulkner, one of the men instrumental in the development of the Great Bear Rain Forest... the fight for its protection continues and Brian is still at the forefront with Ian.

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Tom, our captain, and Brian on board Brian's boat Achiever. National Geographic shot an amazing show on this region called "Last Stand of the Great Bear". Brian and his boat played a large part in the making of this film.

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Getting out while the getting is good. As mentioned we were stuck on the boat for an extra 2 days due to weather so when we had the slightest break we got out. This was one of 2 planes sent to get us.

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Some eagles... as always eagles are abundant on the west coast... here are a few shots only. These first 2 were shot at 3200 ISO but I think they set the right "feel" for a temperate rain forest on a gloomy fall day.

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And a few of the salmon run. Keep in mind this was a bear outing with a little time spent on whales as well. Any other wildlife is a bonus but we didn't always stop for it. The run was a perfect example. Although there would have been some amazing shots taken of the salmon run these shots would have come from prime bear feeding pools. We didn't get close to them however as we may have cut off paths to the pool for bears and would have stopped bears from coming to the pools so instead we waited a ways off for the bears to approach the pools. With this in mind salmon shots were a bonus.

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Pacific salmon, unlike Atlantic salmon, only spawn once and then die right after. By doing so they replenish the forest with vital nitrogen from thier decaying bodies. It is now known that this nitrogen, collected while spending years feeding in the ocean, boost to the trees lining the creeks and rivers plays a vital part in the health and growth rate of not only the animals but also the trees and other plants. A fitting end to such an important species.

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Next up will be random animals and birds from the trip and after that I will post bears and whales.

_________________
Canon 7D + 50D + EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM + EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM + EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
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Last edited by Wolfsong on Sun Mar 20, 2011 7:42 pm, edited 7 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 11:00 pm 
Wish I could have been there. The photos you have posted so far are great.

Cheers


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 11, 2010 1:24 am 
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Great write-up and pictures! Thanks for sharing your experience!

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 11, 2010 1:47 am 
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Thanks fallen and eVo, hopefully I can get up a good series within the next week of the entire trip. Holding back the best as usual but this is one trip where there were plenty of good shots.

Random birds from the trip...

Our trip started in a place called Bella Bella and we spent our first night there before the outing began. One of the people on our trip was a banker from Switzerlandand and avid photographer named Martin. Even though he has yet to sell any of his pics he is amazing at photography and could easily sell his work. He has been tutored a bit on photography by Brian Hill who has done a lot of work in this region and was boarding the boat on the trip after ours for the final trip of the season. Martin has been coming to western Canada for 15+ years and has some of the most incredable shots of Grizzlies I have seen. Anyways.. I met Martin on the dock in Bella Bella photographing gulls. For me this became more of an exercise on light, movement and reflections...

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and of course a duck...

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Some day I will actually get close to a Heron...

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A dipper... according to Mike this is an amazing little bird. It has evolved to specialize in feeding in shallow rapids on insect larva such as caddis flies.

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And finally a new one for me...

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_________________
Canon 7D + 50D + EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM + EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM + EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
Pelican // Black Rapid // Think Tank // Manfrotto // Garmin

Reflections On Canadian Wildlife
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Last edited by Wolfsong on Mon Oct 11, 2010 3:39 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 11, 2010 3:05 am 
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On our last day there I decided to get out in the rain and do some macro work... I like to believe that no matter what the circumstances there is always something to photograph.

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it then clicked in... rain forest... its raining! water droplets!!!

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random wildlife next....

_________________
Canon 7D + 50D + EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM + EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM + EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
Pelican // Black Rapid // Think Tank // Manfrotto // Garmin

Reflections On Canadian Wildlife
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 11, 2010 11:39 pm 
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random sightings...

In the harbour the night before we left there was a pack of Sea Lions playing. All a sudden the water just exploded as they decided to feed...

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and some seals...

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Martin... this guy had his tail bitten off recently.

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First dolphin I have ever seen in the wild... only stayed with us for a few seconds though so not a great photo opp.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 12, 2010 3:32 am 
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On to the whales... Although they were not the main attraction on this trip we did spend about a day total looking for them and photographing them. I personally prefer photographing whales from a zodiac as for me the interactions are more personal but spending some time on a larger/higher shooting platform does have its advantages at times... one being being able to shoot from above reducing surface glare dramatically and creating better angles. I must say though that a whale coming that close to a larger vessel is pretty rare which made this experience even better. First some normal whale shots though...

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I really love this next pic as it gives a great example of skin texture...

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On to the close encounter... I have photographed whales quite a bit so wasn't expecting anything unusual.. with that in mind I decided to spend some time with the cook Susan as I know her from a long time ago. All a sudden we feel a slight rub and Susan tells me to get on deck... Sure enough there was a whale cleaning barnacles off its skin by rubbing against the boat. For the next hour we had 3 encounters with the same whale. Every time it lost interest we would move on and as we did it would come back and check us out again. We easily spent 45+ minutes with this whale within a meter or so of the boat... It was late in the evening so it made for some interesting light as well.

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I had heard about whale whiskers for some time but have never caught them in a shot... this was a first for me...

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Now imagine my surprise when tonight, while I was searching for the best whisker shots, I noticed the parasites on its nose... this is an extreme crop...

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a spy-hop right next to the boat...

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how close is close enough.... this was the whale's choice not ours...

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looking down the blow hole.... notice there are more parasites...

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By no means a good shot but my first ever whale eye...

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And finally for the whales... a pic of yours truly getting sprayed by a whale blow.. a second after this pic was taken I took a direct hit... as did my camera.

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It was only after the encounter that Mike thought of going up the mast in the Bosun's chair for some aerial type shots as at one point the whale was lined up perfectly under the bow of the boat with one fin out either side. Looking back we had more than enough time to get it set up and get someone up in it... oh well.. next time :twisted:

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 12, 2010 7:58 pm 
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I guessing you won't forget that trip for a while :D

Lovely shots

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 12, 2010 8:49 pm 
:shock: :shock: i am melting in front of my pc awesome pics :P i wish i was there

gr
morris


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 12, 2010 10:01 pm 
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"Kpr... without a doubt this would be a trip for you!!! "

A B S O L U T E L Y :D
It'll happen for me someday. 8)

That web/droplet shot is awesome!!!...love it!
Cool Martin too,don't see many of them around here.

WE WANT BEARS!!!! :lol:


I'd about kill to be anywhere but here on the puter right now.
Prime time of the year for me,got two friends here from Michigan and I'm the camp cook tonight :(
Put my back out and it about floors me to even think about moving.
Great way to spend my vacation :cry:

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 12, 2010 11:13 pm 
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Bears it is... just a heads up.. I took over 4000 pics of bears so I'm just randomly picking some shots to post... just an average sampling for now... lets start with the black bears... kinda funny, with all the focus on the Spirit Bear a few of the other people on this tour seemed a tad uninterested in the black bears we encountered. I for one found at least one totally amazing. He had been named Scar Face due to his temperment but showed amazing character and personality.

Which brings up a point I would like to make... more and more while on these outings I am finding photographers who are so intent on shooting a specific species/event/place that they all but loose foucs on what is happening around them. Mike and I were joking about it several times on this trip as no one saw the martin the first few times it showed up, no one saw the Stellar Jay, seals were missed most of the time by some and on and on... We were all there for bears but that being said there was so much more to shoot if you just took your time and became aware of your surroundings.

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at this point I was about 2 meters away from the bear with nothing between the 2 of us.... surprisingly for me I felt calm throughout the encounter.

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Another little hint when on a trip like this with other photographers and also if you are looking for something different in a shot... you will learn fast that most of your shots will be almost the same... especially when something exciting happens. I'm always looking for intimate moments (more on this later) or different angles to make my pics a bit different. In the following 2 I actually layed down in the creek on my belly to get a fish's perspective of a bear. Back on the boat these 2 images stood out from the rest taken that day by others specifically for that reason.

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we were at a point in the salmon run where the bears were becoming picky and some were looking for female salmon only due to the eggs. This fish was just bursting with eggs...

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Grizzlies next.

_________________
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Pelican // Black Rapid // Think Tank // Manfrotto // Garmin

Reflections On Canadian Wildlife
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 13, 2010 2:25 am 
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These were taken at Mussel Inlet which is famous for its salmon run and bears. Although a great area and encounters with grizzlies were numerous it was the most challenging place to shoot in. Steep cliffs on either side made direct daylight minimal every day. When it wasn't cloudy it was shady most of the time. That said we came across some amazing grizzlies...

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If you look closely at the bear`s feet you can make out a salmon getting away...

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One picture I wanted to get was a grizzly feeding on wild crab apples. I`ll post a better pic later of this activity..

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Mom and cub resting under an apple tree.

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_________________
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Pelican // Black Rapid // Think Tank // Manfrotto // Garmin

Reflections On Canadian Wildlife
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 13, 2010 2:58 am 
You are a lucky (inserts swear word) to go to a place like that.

Good Work.


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 13, 2010 3:01 am 
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On to what is the main attraction to this region... the Kermode Bear or Spirit Bear. Scientifically speeking the Kermode bear is a subspecies of the American Black Bear. They are white due to a recessive allele common in the population. About 1 in 10 are born white. It is thought there are about 200 in existence which would make it more rare than the Panda Bear. It is not an albino as commonly thought.

Native Americans from the region have a myth about this bear and they consider it sacred. The story says that the gods turned the bear white as a reminder of the time when the gods punished humanity due to its greed. Historians now believe this myth referrs to the last ice age and the hard times brought on by it to humanity. We had the chance to go into a long house and photograph a native piece of artwork depicting the bear and more. We were the first group to be allowed to photograph the spirit bear itself without the rest of the painting. They do not allow people to photograph the bear alone because they feel without the rest of the painting it will be taken out of context as the whole painting tells a story... I will post pics of the long house later..

The place we were viewing the bears is called Gribble Island. Visiters are closely monitored by local native guides while there. To view the bears here it costs $1800.00 per day per group. No more than 2 groups are allowed per day and group size is limited from 1 to 12 people I believe. The guides have done an amazing job at keeping the area natural with minimal impact on the bears and environment. It is this bear which has raised attention to the area and why there is such a big push to protect this area. It`s sad cause there is so much more this area has to offer but if a poster child is needed to protect this area I dont think there could be a better representative than the Spirit Bear.

There has been a book written about this bear and a movie made as well but the best film on this bear would be National Geographic`s film `Last Stand of the Great Bear`.

We were lucky enough to spend 2 days with these bears. The weather was great and the bears were cooperative. On day one 1 came out of the forest about 5 minutes after we arrived and we were lucky enough to have one within view for at least 5 hours out of the 9 hours we spent there on day one. We were also lucky enough on day one to be able to capture 2 bears in one frame. According to the guide this is the first time in 15 years there that he was able to capture 2 bears in one frame. Day 2 was a bit slower but not by much. All together we seen 3 different Spirit Bears... 1.5% of the total believed population.

One of the bears, we later discovered, was also in the NG film mentioned above. He is now 15 years old and near the end of his life but still looking good. Last year he took on the black bear Scar Face and came out the victor. The Spirit bear is named Ringer because it is missing its ring finger claw. He also has a limp. While watching the film Martin noticed it was the same bear and he was right... it too was missing the claw and had a limp/favoured one front leg. I believe the film was shot about 5 years ago.

Pics to follow... travel day for me tomorrow.

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Pelican // Black Rapid // Think Tank // Manfrotto // Garmin

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