August 23, 2023
A brown bear (grizzly) sow and her two yearling cubs on the beach.
We crossed Shelikof Strait with the students and approached Hallo Glacier, the blue ice flowing down in exquisitely slow motion from Mount Stellar and Kukak Volcano. As we approached, a pod of orcas crossed our bow. It was a Disney moment. As we got closer to shore, we could see a brown bear sow and her two cubs working the beach.
Brown bears are genetically identical to the inland grizzlies, but bigger because they feed more on salmon and less on mice, grass, and moth larva. A large adult male brown bear can stand 10 feet tall, weigh 1,200 pounds, and can outsprint a racehorse. This stretch of the Alaska Peninsula is Katmai National Park. We’d be seeing a lot of bears.
Bear attacks do happen, but they are extraordinarily rare, and they usually happen to stupid people doing stupid things, like not respecting the bear, or using a gun too soon and escalating a feint to a fight.
I have a six-point strategy for bear defense for the kids: Don’t go where we know there are bears, like the mouths of streams when the salmon are running. Travel in pairs or threes. Make noise (some people wear bells but 17-year-olds in groups make plenty of noise on their own). When you meet a bear, don’t run – walk calmly in a direction that gives the bear an escape route. Carry bear spray, always, and understand how to use it (we give every kid a canister and training).
And just in case, whenever I’m shepherding students and other researchers, I carry a fast lever-action 45-70 rifle with special extra-heavy bear loads I make myself with a bullet press down in the engine room. Just in case.
-- Bill Urschel
Approaching Hallo Glacier.
We're booking student expeditions for the 2024 seasion. If you're interested, drop us a note at Expeditions@AlaskaEndeavour.org.