Halo Bay, Katmai National Park, Alaska
Arriving at Halo Bay
This is a view through the front window as we flew into Katmai's Halo Bay on a clear June day. Our group included the pilot and guide and one other couple. Katmai is located directly across Shelikof Straight from Kodiak Island, where our flight originated. To the right of the sandbar is seawater. The water on the left is brackish here, but cold and fresh further upriver. The mountains and volcanoes in the photo are part of the Aleutian Range, but Katmai is technically on the Alaska Peninsula.
Crossing Halo River
We were there to observe and photograph the plentiful coastal brown bears (closely related to Kodiak brown bears and grizzlies) bears feeding on clams and sedges. After a few hours of good bear viewing (and a fair amount of mosquito swatting) it was time to cross the Halo River to return to our plane. The glacial meltwater was chilly and was nearing the top of our hip waters when we came to a stop mid-river.
The bear cub in the center had naively awakened a large male who was sleeping with his mate, and the male responded angrily. As the male approached, the cub retreated... but only temporarily. When the male went back to his mate, the cub moved towards them, again, and again. Many young bears don't survive encounters with adult males and this one was pressing his luck.
Mom Gives Up
The cub's mother kept her distance and called plaintively to get his attention. After much huffing, bleating, pawing the ground and other strong signals of distress, the female gave what what might have been one last look at her cub, and started across the river towards our group. It is not unusual for females and juvenile coastal brown bears to approach people for safety when pursued by older and bigger male bears.
Suddenly, the cub saw that his mother had left him. He turned before the large male reached him and plunged into the river. The mother and cub were now headed straight for our group and there was a large irritated male bear on the bank opposite us.
Safely Reaching the Far Bank
When it became clear to the female that the male was not pursuing them, she crossed our path with her cub in tow and came out on safely the other side. When the cub turned back to look our way, I (Bob) recorded the scene for my painting "Below the Glacier".
We then changed our course and headed downriver towards our plane, where we found our pilot busy pushing the plane offshore to avoid another two bears that were headed his way. When they lost interest in our plane, we took the opportunity to return home.