The Bears of Pavlof

After the aborted shore mission at Iyoukeen Cove, we were not done for the day, there would be more bears.

A grizzly bear fishing at Pavlof Harbor
A grizzly bear fishing at Pavlof Harbor
We knew there was yet another opportunity to see bears, under somewhat safer conditions, just around the corner in Freshwater Bay. Pavlof Harbor is a small cove off the bay that offers a small river that tumbles over a low waterfalls right at tideline. If there are fish in the river, there will be bears fishing here. As this is still Chichagof Island, they will be grizzly bears, there are no black bears here.

As we entered Pavlof harbor we were surprised as a float plane came overhead and landed along the northern shore. The plane quickly beached a few hundred yards north of where the river enters the cove and disgorged a group of passengers, the plane deparing as soon as the passengers were off. While we set about anchoring the Quest in the cove, they got a briefing from their guide and slowly walked along the shoreline trail to the river.

In binoculars we could see at least two bears at the river. It looked like these folks were getting what they paid for, a chance to see and photograph grizzlies fishing in the river. Deciding to give the other group a head start we broke out the chow and had grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch.

Landing down the shore just made sense, I aimed the launch at the same spot the floatplane had used. There is a fairly nice trail just above the tidewater and just inside the treeline leading to a small rocky rise overlooking the river. Sure enough, we found the other group and the bears.

It appears that a commercial tour has been using Pavlof Harbor as a bear viewing site. This was new, we had never encountered such a tour here in years past. They even had benches set up for the tour, these had clearly not come in with the float plane.

Grizzly bear and cub eating a salmon at Pavlof River
Grizzly bear and cub eating a salmon at Pavlof River
Once back to civilization I quickly locate the website for the tour outfitter. They call the creek “WaterFall Creek”, instead of Pavlof for some odd reason. It is clearly the same place, the photos on the website show Pavlof. The same outfitter runs air tours to Pack Creek. They must have expanded recently and needed a second site as Pack Creek is carefully controlled by the Forest Service with a very limited number of visitors allowed each day.

I was glad we had given the tour that hour, as it was thanks to the tour that we were able to watch the bears at all. Grizzlies will often melt quickly into the woods when the unfamiliar appears. I have seen so many bears disappear when I arrived. These bears were habituated to the presence of humans here by the regular tours, as a result they stayed and continued to fish as we watched.

Two female grizzlies, one with two cubs. They ignored us and scanned the water for salmon. We watched as they caught and ate a few fish, the mother sharing her kills with one cub or the other.

The number of occasions I have been able to just watch and photograph bears like this can be counted on one hand. Pavlof, Pack Creek, and Anan are the most reliable bear viewing sites in the region. A very memorable day and a special experience for everyone.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

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