If it's tourist season why can't I shoot them?
That is a joke obviously and is an occasional bumper sticker seen in various towns where tourism may dramatically change the character of a Southeast Alaska town in the summer. Wrangell fortunately, has managed to keep its frontier, blue collar, hardworking rural Alaska character while being open and appreciative of folks from all over the world. We really are a friendly town here on the rock.
I by no means want to imply that the following photos are a typical day here in the temperate jungle. These photos are the result of determination, local experience, luck, and the grace of this incredible natural world in which we live.
The following post will be primarily of photos I managed to take while driving a boat or hiking some folks up a trail while trying to get them the great pictures and keep them safe from bears. I am surprised somewhat by how much I enjoy being a charter captain/guide in the tourist industry here in SEAK. I don't think anyone would mistake me for a people person but having to get quickly and intimately familiar with people of all races, genders, backgrounds, economic status, etc and then try to provide them with an experience that may truly be a once in a lifetime experience is a pretty satisfying high. Nailing a trip and seeing your people just buzzing with the experience of the day is addictive, I'm an Alaska addict.
I told my oldest friend, Kevin, once while I lived in western Montana that I would never leave Montana, brother, paraphrasing the movie A River Runs Through It (the book is better!), back when I was a cheesy romantic hippy, now I'm almost 18 years into living in a temperate rainforest and continue to be awed and humbled.
This photo is from the Anan Wildlife Observatory which is primarily known for its bears, both brown bears, Ursus arctos, and black bears, Ursus americanus. Wolves have been occasionally sighted here but they are very rare to see anywhere. I have seen them a few times at Anan over the last 18 years, but each time has been a sighting of a wolf or two trotting along the beach at low tide. This was the first time I have ever seen one in the lagoon area of Anan. This wolf was in Anan Creek not far from where the bears normally fish for the prolific run of pink salmon which draw them there. I think my excitement resulting from this sighting was infectious as the people I was guiding were buzzing with that energy that I've realized is so addictive.
Oh yeah, and there were several bears too!
Sometimes watching the humans watching the bears is the most entertaining part of being at Anan for me. I like this shot. For me, there is so much going on in this moment in time. We get to see a moment that caught this person's attention while she is trying to capture that moment, we are experiencing two different versions of the same reality. We are also seeing a sort of fusion of the old natural world and the scary new technological world. Trippy man!! But really, click on this one and just think about what you are really looking at. Go deep!
I can't help but think the bears get some level of enjoyment from watching all of us hairless apes watch them. We are by far much more unpredictable and oddly interesting I think.
I thankfully found some whales today on a whale watching trip. I've become a whale hunter! We search out and stalk these incredible beings hoping to get some incredible shots at them. With cameras of course. This group of 6 humpback whales offered us a very memorable day. We first spotted them as they crossed the wide strait at a very quick and determined speed over to the shoreline that I had left 10 minutes earlier. I was betting on my gut feeling that this group was heading across the strait to feed as they seemed very intent and coordinated. As soon as they reached the opposite shore, they disappeared for several moments and then, Bubbles!! The feeding behavior in these photos is called bubble feeding and as far as humans know, is unique to humpbacks. Typically, a group of whales travel together until they find a school of herring or other small feed fish at which point they somehow determine which one of them will swim in a circle while blowing bubbles to corral the fish into a dense ball. The other whales then swim straight up through the fish ball with their mouths open swallowing huge amounts of water and fish. The water is then strained through their baleen using their giant tongue trapping the fish in the whales' mouths. The gillnet fisherman in the above photo may disagree, but for me, this is a truly spectacular sight to witness time after time!
Happy Fourth of July everyone!