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Harriman Expedition Retraced

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Expedition Log: August 7, 2001

Melissa Wockley and Devon Ducharme, Young Explorers Team

Geographic Harbor

Imagine waking up with the expectation of seeing brown bears (otherwise known as "grizzly,") and going to sleep feeling as though you had a crossed off a life list experience. We boarded the Zodiacs in Geographic Harbor, a part of Katmai National Park that is located across the Shelikof Strait from Kodiak Island, heading towards the coast in search of feeding bears. The low tide created the expectation that there would be plenty of shellfish for the bears to enjoy. Our first encounter with the renowned brown bear was a sighting of a sow with two yearling cubs. They were feasting on clams along the shore and you could see them dig for a clam, then use their paw to crush the shell and enjoy their meal. The Zodiac quietly approached and the bears seemed only interested in obtaining meals, rather than being nervous at the presence of the mesmerized spectators. Continuing on through the bay, we next encountered a sow with two spring cubs that would have ventured from the den around May. One cub nestled by mother's side, while the other cheerfully chased a bird along the coast. The young cubs were very playful and they soon headed towards the trees where the sow rolled on her back and allowed the cubs to feed.



bear eating

Male brown bear feeding on a starry founder. (Photo by Megan Litwin).
Click image for a larger view.

Next, we ventured across the harbor and viewed two male cubs feeding on the sandy shore. One boar walked towards the coast, sniffing the air and effortlessly fished out a starry flounder. The two bears passed by one another without any thoughts of sharing and continued to walk along the coast while feeding. Off to the left, we spotted a sow with two more spring cubs that were traveling along the beach. It was fascinating to watch the bears glance over at the Zodiacs with little interest or concern. The sow carefully eyed her cubs; with binoculars you could see her facial expression as she turned to make sure that the cubs were within a safe distance.

After viewing eleven brown bears we continued on and found a male and female pair walking along the rocks. Observing the playful behavior, we learned that it is referred to as pair bonding. Pair bonding is an example of pre-courtship behavior that allows bears within the same region to form a relationship that can be further developed during the two week long June mating season. We came to a narrow section of the bay and watched the two bears swim across the water and continue to play within 50 feet of the Zodiac. It was fascinating to watch them stand on their hind legs and box with one another in a playful manner.


bears bonding

Pair bonding between a male and a female brown bear in Geographic Harbor. (Photo by Megan Litwin).
Click image for a larger view.

Our three hours of action packed bear watching came to an end when we returned to the Clipper Odyssey. The afternoon Zodiac excursion brought us to Kukak Bay where we disembarked on a sandy beach to explore the island. The island is an archeological site where an active settlement once thrived around the time of 1600 AD. The warm water temperature, approximately 59 degrees Fahrenheit, offered a quick swim for a few adventurous members of the expedition.

(View the day's photos)


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For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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