We stand in silence, barely moving. Over the sound of rushing water, I strain my ears to listen for the crack of a twig, a rustle in the bushes near the river. Sounds that would indicate something large stirring nearby.
Something like a grizzly bear.
Our vantage point in the viewing tower sits ten feet off the ground, giving us a 360-degree view of the forest around the salmon-bearing Klaite River in Toba Inlet on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. From here, we should be able to spot bears converging on the river, waiting for lunch to arrive.
Stewert Barnes, our Klahoose Coastal Adventures guide, knows there are grizzlies nearby. It’s late August, and the salmon are starting to return to spawn in the waters of their birth. Like clockwork, coastal grizzly bears descend into the river valleys, waiting for the bounty that will sustain them through the coming winter.
It’s a question of survival for mega-fauna like bears who feast on the heads, bellies and skin of the fish. But the salmon are also integral for eagles, coyotes, wolves and other species who enjoy the parts that the bears leave behind.
The towering red and yellow cedars in this temperate rainforest are equally dependent on the protein decay that feeds the soil over the course of time.
It’s a west coast circle of life that happens year after year; an important cycle that humans need as much as the bears and other mammals. Though we tend to forget about our own inter-connectedness.
The Klahoose First Nation has not forgotten. In partnership with Homfray Lodge, Pacific Coastal Cruises and others, the Klahoose established Coastal Adventure grizzly bear viewing tours three years ago with an emphasis on safety, conservation and education.
The Grizzly Bears of Toba Inlet Tour runs from late August to early October, in sync with the salmon run. Intimate tours offer guests the chance to observe bears in their natural habitat in the remote wilderness.
While seeing bears is never guaranteed, the timing of the tours is such that the odds are in our favour. The odds, and luck, as it turned out.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see a female grizzly bear and her two one-year-old cubs make their way towards us along the riverbank. We followed their progress from the beginning of our three-hour tour, when they appeared and then retreated just as quickly back into the forest. But now, to our delight, they return to test the waters for salmon. Claudia Laroye
“This is a good sign,” whispers Stewert. “A mama bear and two cubs, one of you must be a lucky charm!”
The mother is intent on finding food. The cubs seem wary and curious of our presence. They stand on their hind legs frequently, sniffing the air and staring at our group. Judging whether we are friends, enemies or lunch.
Their survival instincts are strong, which will serve them well in the wilderness where male grizzlies will kill cubs in order to get a female back in heat, which she won’t be while her offspring are with her.
As the family crosses the milky-green river on a log, a twig-snap reveals a large male emerging from behind a bush. We hold our collective breath as the male freezes and the female realizes its presence. She begins a slow retreat with her cubs in tow, crossing back to the other side of the river.
They maintain eye contact until it becomes clear that the male is more interested in finding salmon than destroying cubs.
Stunned by this encounter, we are grateful to not have witnessed the crueler side of nature. The cubs lived to see another day, while the memory of our encounters with the grizzly bears of Toba Inlet will stay with us forever. Claudia Laroye
Disclaimer: The writer was hosted by Pacific Coastal Cruises and Homfray Lodge. They did not review this article.
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