Photographing Grizzly Bears in Kodiak, AK

First, the Kodiak Bear is not a grizzly bear which lives on the mainland of the continent, but it is related as they are both brown bears. What makes these particular bears so special is their large size, They are the biggest brown bears and second largest bears in the world (polar bears are bigger). The only way to see them is to go to Kodiak Island, which is what we did last summer. Here is what you might see.

It was a trip of firsts – first time on Kodiak Island; first time seeing and photographing bears like this in the wild; first time in a float plane. All of these experiences were very exciting. We were joined on our trip by our Alaskan friends, Mark and Cat (also their first trip to Kodiak).

The plane was a 1950’s era de Haviland prop plane with floats. These planes are highly dependable and valued in Alaska. Another interesting feature is that it can fly for miles if its engine cuts out and gives the pilot plenty of time to find a lake or bay to land in. Well, we thought four of us would fit just fine with the pilot until they added two more guys for a total of 7 people. It was tight and loud for our one hour flight.

After landing, we still had a mile hike through grass taller than Mary. Not comforting when you know you are in bear country. Our destination was a fishing weir where the bears gather to catch easy meals. As our guide told us, “They won’t come after us because we are too big and they are lazy. The fish are right there and easy to catch.” Again, not comforting. Finally, the guys that work at the fishing weir walked around with a shotgun and plastic bullets, while our guide had one can of bear spray for the seven of us. Here’s the view.

We were perched about 20 yards from the bears. We saw 17 bears over about 3 hours.

The highlight of the day was a beautiful blonde mamma bear and her three cubs. They laid down right in front of us and played together for what seamed like an hour.

And then she went fishing…

While the cubs played…

We got back on the plane without incident and had homemade box dinners on the plane on our way back to Kodiak. But the adventure was not over. A fog bank dropped into Kodiak Bay and we could not land. There are few roads on Kodiak and our only choice was an “emergency landing” at Anton Bay about 45 minutes drive from Kodiak. If that had not worked, we would have landed on the other side of the island and spent the night in the plane and left the next morning. Of course, we did not know about this option until the pilot told us after we had landed. End-to-end, it was a nine hour day and one of the best days of our lives. It was, truly, a bucket-list experience.

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