“What is The Number One Threat to America?…”

“…Bears!”

–Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report

(August 6th, 2017)

After our chill day in Berg Bay, this morning we woke up early, pulled up anchor, and for the first time in Alaska, we were the first boat out of the harbor and underway.  We motored the two hours south to Anan Bay where we swung around, dropped anchor in 55 feet of water and backed down on the anchor toward shore, which suddenly rose up to 7 feet under our boat.  Being low tide currently, we were confident that as the tide came up through the day we’d be safe with the depth.   Our Jenneau Sun Odyssey 45 only draws 5.5 feet underwater due to her shoal keel, and the rudder is only 5 feet deep, so 7 feet is “enough”.

We sat there watching our anchor position while the rest of the boats bound for Anan anchored nearby.   During the process, a seaplane landed nearby, dropping off a few passengers at the Anan Creek trailhead and then floated over near us, between the boats, and tied to the ranger float.

Once we were all ready, we donned long sleeves and long pants (for bugs), packed some bug spray and water (absolutely no food) and jumped in the dinghy headed for the trailhead.  We tied out dinghy to Ruby Slippers dinghy and left a sort of dinghy raft off the beach.

After a quick briefing from the ranger near the trailhead we walked up the trail, adults fore and aft, kids in the middle, with cameras and hiking songs to make noise.  Jim was in the lead and really wanted us to be quiet (against the rangers advice) because he hoped to see a bear on the trail.  We did not see a bear on the walk up to the observation deck, but we did see dozens of eagles, seals, and other animals occupying the delta near the trail, catching salmon heading up the creek.  There were thousands upon thousands of spawning salmon making their way from the ocean, into the sound, into the delta, and up the creek.  We didn’t really notice that until later because the salmon were so thick, it just looked like a dark creek bed.

Every rock in the delta had an eagle perched on it, watching the salmon and waiting for an opportunity.  The seagulls waited for salmon carcasses to flush down the creek, easy-pickins for them to grab hold and eventually fight over with each other.  More on the carcasses in a moment.

After the brief walk we made it to the observation deck (which is fenced and gated) where a second ranger, Leah, greeted us and let us in.  We wandered around the deck and looked out over the cascading falls of the creek finding a few black bears on shore fishing for a meal.   We watched these bears, some clearly better at fishing than others, for a few hours.  Watching a bear catch a salmon is fascinating, and reminds me a lot of a cat trying to catch a mouse in a field, or our dog snapping at flies.  They watch the water intently, then suddenly pounce with both front paws and their mouth, usually missing, but sometimes catching a large salmon that any angler would be jealous of. 

We learned that the bears can feel the eggs in the female fish when they bite down and will discard the fish if it’s a male.  They prefer to eat the eggs and the brains, leaving the rest of the fish uneaten.  The remainder of the fish gets picked off by seagulls waiting nearby when the bear leaves.  Sometimes this carcass will get washed down the creek and end up in the aforementioned delta, where the other gulls await.

The water of the creek is so thick with salmon you can’t actually see the bottom.  They rest and wait in flat ponding areas, then attempt to jump the cascades, then rest again.  We walked down into the blind set up under the deck, right out over the creek, and watched the seemingly smartest bear, secure in a little cave alongside the creek, where fish would literally stack up in the water 12 inches from his head.  He’d put his nose in the water and come up with a fish every so often, eat what he wanted, then grab another.  Almost like someone sitting in front of a bowl of nuts would grab nut after nut.

Off in the distance where the creek meets the delta, I saw a brown bear finally.  She was just wandering through the water, fishing, but she didn’t come up near the deck.  A bear cup ambled about on a log alongside the creek, and several other were climbing over and through the large rocks on the creek side.  All of these bears, no more than 20 feet from us.  Meanwhile, throughout our time at the observation deck, bears would walk around and under the deck to get from one part of the creek to the other.   In many cases, 2-3 feet from people standing on the deck, near the railing.  There was a line we were supposed to stay behind, two feet from the railing, whenever a bear was close.  For their part, the bears largely ignored the people watching them.

A bit after noon it was time to start heading back, as we needed lunch soon, and we also had to get moving to tonight’s anchorage in Santa Anna Inlet.  We walked down the path, singing songs, where our dinghy awaited, still attached to other dinghies but off around some rocks, with the high tide making it a bit more difficult to get to.   I climbed over a few rocks, got into the dinghy, then worked the bow line a bunch until I was able to get around the other dinghies and untie from the rafted boats, start the motor, and meet the girls on the steps that come down from the trail into the water.   We had a wet/windy run back to our boat, where the wind had picked up to 15+kts.

Unfortunately, s/v Breakaway was floating just about where our anchor was, making it difficult, if not impossible, to retrieve our anchor without hitting them, so we waited for the rest of the crews to get back and pull up their anchors first, after which we were on our way.

 

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