Feast in the River: In Alaska, travelers can watch bears catch salmon and other fish. Photo: Roland Jung / Visit Anchorage / dpa-tmn (Roland Jung / dpa)
Whistler (dpa / tmn) – Travel to the USA and Canada is currently not possible due to the corona pandemic. But once the restrictions are lifted, visitors will again have some wilderness adventures waiting for them. An encounter with bears included.
Biathletes once competed in the Olympic Park in Whistler, and ski jumpers raced over the jumps. The area was built here in the Canadian province of British Columbia in the middle of the forest. Today black bears and some grizzly bears can be observed there – on guided tours.
The locals call him the ghost bear: a kermode bear in the Great Bear Rainforest on Canada’s west coast. Photo: Yuri Choufour / Destination BC / dpa-tmn (Yuri Choufour / dpa)
Is there a guarantee that I will see the bears?
Those who get up early have at least a very good chance. “When, where and how many bears you see, it is completely a matter of luck,” says Joel Lycklama of tour operator Whistler Photo Safaris.
Always looking for food: Black Bear in Whistler. Photo: Mike Crane / Tourism Whistler / dpa-tmn (Mike Crane / dpa)
The guide will be ready with his off-road vehicle at six o’clock in the morning. It goes up and down, through dense forest. But a bear is not in sight even after hours. As the group is about to start on the way back, movement can suddenly be seen in a large field full of devil’s claws. A mother bear with her two children eats and plays here.
How do I react to an involuntary encounter?
Travelers can see not only bears in the wilderness of North America – but also cute ground squirrels, for example. Photo: Verena Wolff / dpa-tmn (Verena Wolff / dpa)
The mother animal does not allow itself to be disturbed by the tourists. “However, if you had seen them hiking, you would have to be careful,” says Joel Lycklama. Because especially mothers who protect their children can be aggressive at times. “Bear spray and a bell belong in the backpack here.” As a hiker, it is best to keep calm and make yourself noticeable by making loud noises. “As a rule, the bears run away on their own.”
How dangerous are bears?
These bears are not seen as often by travelers in North America: a polar bear in Canada’s Baffin Bay. Photo: Verena Wolff / dpa-tmn (Verena Wolff / dpa)
Anyone who is actually attacked by an aggressive bear has little chance: The black bear is a fast runner, a good swimmer and a nimble climber. “He also has big paws and claws,” says Joel Lycklama.
Bears can also smell food hundreds of meters away and see them well. “Therefore, when you camp in the forest, you should always keep your food away from your tent,” says the guide. It is best to pack supplies airtight and hang them between two trees.
“Please do not feed”: This Whistler sign indicates bears. Photo: Verena Wolff / dpa-tmn (Verena Wolff / dpa)
Grizzlies are significantly more dangerous than black bears because they are larger, heavier and often more aggressive. This is especially true for mothers with boys who feel threatened.
But actually all bears have only one thing in mind during the summer: to eat in order to have a good layer of fat for hibernation. That is why they are in the forest in search of berries, honeycombs and lots of little things that crawl across the forest floor. The bears look for the water on rivers and the sea – and of course the delicious salmon.
Bear Watching in Alaska: The tracks of the grizzly bear testify to the enormous size of the animals. Photo: Verena Wolff / dpa-tmn (Verena Wolff / dpa)
Where can I see the bears catching salmon?
There are several places for this in Alaska, for example the
Katmai National Park. Small propeller machines bring tourists there from Homer. Michael Hughes is the owner of Alaska Bear Adventures and has been flying to the grizzlies for many years. He is always armed with bear spray, noisemakers and a rifle. Safety tip: He and his five passengers stay close together. “This is what the bear thinks, we are the bigger bear.”
Grizzly bears in Alaska: The northernmost state of the USA is particularly suitable for bear watching trips. Photo: Verena Wolff / dpa-tmn (Verena Wolff / dpa)
Before departure, he hands out waist-high rubber boots. You never know which arms the sea is flowing into and where you have to wade to see the bears. It is always a spectacle to watch the partly well-fed animals catching salmon.
What other bears are there in North America?
In addition to black bears and grizzlies, there are two other bear species: Polar bears live mainly in northern Alaska and in the Canadian territories in the north. In Nunavut, which covers a large part of the Canadian Arctic, expedition ships from the main town Inuvik follow the traces of the former Northwest Passage.
The Great Bear Rainforest on the coast of British Columbia is home to the Kermode bear, a subspecies of the American black bear, also known by the indigenous peoples as the Spirit Bear. A recessive gene ensures that this bear’s coat is white or cream-colored. It is estimated that there are only several hundred of these bears, and they all live in the unique ecosystem that spans the northern and central coasts of the westernmost Canadian province.
How do I organize a trip to see the bears?
Tourists can book special bear viewing tours in both the US and Canada – by seaplanes, boats, or off-road vehicles. Or book yourself straight into a lodge that is so lonely that bears are almost guaranteed to drop by.
And sometimes, on one of the more remote roads in the Yukon, Alaska, or elsewhere, you’re lucky enough to see a family of bears on the side of the road. Then it is time to brake immediately, switch on the hazard warning lights – and enjoy the spectacle.
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