Our guide let us sleep an hour later today, which meant that by the time we hit the beach, the five bears who were catching salmon there were just about finished. Actually, they would have liked to catch more, but as the tide receded the fish moved back out to sea with it. The bears lay down on the beach and had a nice snooze.
So our guide took us to look for the wolves. Our guide’s name is Buck Wilde and he is the sort of mountain man that could star in any western. He has piercing blue Paul Newman eyes, a deep tan, and a curly blond pony tail that has turned gray closer to his head. He walked away from a high paying job in the real world to spend 23 years with the wild life in Alaska. He has camped all alone out here for weeks at a time and can read the bear’s body language which is what keeps us safe here. Not too far away from here, a couple was camping with the grizzly for a number of summers and eventually got eaten by them. An autopsy of bear stomach contents proved that this was how they had met their end. So even with all Buck’s experience, we are always aware that these are not pets, even when they look so cute and cuddly.
The wolf pack live on a little knoll where they are high enough to keep an eye on what’s going on on the beach. Buck told us they are much better fishermen than the bears and sometimes tag team them after they have caught a fish and snatch the fish away. We could see a wolf on the bluff with binoculars, but it wouldn’t come any closer. Buck yowled like a wolf and crawled on all fours through the tall grass, turning around three times and laying down just like a dog. At the time we found this rather amusing, but he showed us a video other guests had made of a time when this routine brought the wolf pack right up to the tourist group. But today despite Buck’s best efforts, the wolves stayed put too far away to photograph well.
In the afternoon we got in the boat and circled some little islands. They were full of sea birds and the usually shy and impossible to photograph puffins stayed put and even with the bobbing boat, we could finally get a good view. Those with greater skill than I even caught them mid flight.
Then we skiffed up river at high tide and sat in a meadow of daisies and watched the bears munching on them. Two bears moved in on the same patch of flowers and we were afraid that a fight would ensue. Instead they gave each other affectionate slaps and nuzzles and rolled around together. Buck said they must be siblings. Then some secret signal was given and all the bears we could see moved en masse to the river to fish. At varying times we saw as many as six bears at once. Unless bears are related, they are not very sociable and occasionally there were ominous throaty growls as territory was established. We saw lots of fishing efforts with lots of bear splashing and dashing, but except for one flounder, no one got anything to eat. One smart bear finally gave up and went back to eat grass. Grass is not nearly as nutritious as salmon, but a full belly makes for a happy bear.
As we walked out into the waves to get on the skiff we passed bear after bear, probably fifteen all together. Katmai National Park is known as the Manhattan Island of grizzlies. There are few other places that can sustain such a high population so close together. Full bellies also keep the fighting to a minimum.