I went camping with Kodiak bears in Alaska. All of them. (Part 2 – new gallery)

The first baby bear I ever saw was way out at low tide crossing from one of the small islands off the coast of our cove to another one. It was tiny. Mother Bear (like most bears) moved slow and deliberately with long purposeful steps, and baby bear had to do these little skip-jumps to keep up. I was instantly in inescapable love.

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Far from being an expert, it seemed that the tiny first year bears will stay close to their mother and listen very closely to everything she tells them to do. They’re adorable in their vulnerabilities, irresistible in their play, and they instantly crawl deep into your chest area and maybe you tear up a little remembering watching that first baby bear sticking so close to mom, seeing humans for the first time in its life and having its tiny little bear brain explode at the idea of such strange-looking creatures.

LOOK AT THESE TINY BABY FEET.

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These fuckers on the other hand, were in their second summer.

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Teenagers, in most of the ways humans understand teenagers. They’re experienced enough to know when they don’t need to listen and often will just wander off on their own and mom will have to follow them. Our guide Brian said these were dangerous bears because during their second and third summer, they’re testing everything and will pick fights because they know mom will back them up. That’s a bad situation if they’re picking a fight with a human (Brian didn’t have any examples of that happening though, thankfully.)

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We watched this family more than any other set during our five day adventure, and on the first evening’s walk down the beach around the point we met them for the first time when they popped out of the west meadow, directly above where Michele had been sitting just two minutes prior.

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The teenagers will bray incessantly to feed, even though they’re also eating a steady diet of clams and grasses and dead whales if available or anything else. They get aggressive with mom’s nipples and she’s not too keen to let them nurse for long at this stage. One night Michele shook me awake in our tent to the sound of them braying (like donkeys, almost) nearby, and all of the birds chirping in the sunny middle of the night. Suddenly a groar (a growl-roar! I just totally made that word up) and the braying stopped, and the birds were quiet. Mom laid the smackdown and that was that.

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Mom has the added responsibility of looking after the cubs but also being aware of other bears in the area, males, who will attack and kill cubs so that the female goes into heat again. We spotted this male (above) crossing into the west meadow and once mom saw him she and the cubs ran a solid distance to the other end of the meadow. This time the cubs listened to her, but then instantly sat down and started chewing their feet and lolling around again once they were far enough away.

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Shooting these guys was the same as shooting the other bears: set up, stay put. As long as mom is aware you’re there, it’s a safe bet she’s uninterested in you. One afternoon during a small rain shower, the four others went back to the tents to nap and I stayed awake to watch the family of three across the river for a couple of hours. It was raining slightly, making most of the shots I took grainy and unfocused, but when they decided to cross the sand bar to head to clam during low tide it had stopped raining and I managed to snag a couple of great shots of the teenagers.

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The full gallery is below, and at the risk of this going another 1,000 words, more baby bears still to post in Part 3.

 

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