Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Bears of Anan Creek

You’ve been there.  The middle of the night at summer camp.  Darkness envelops the world in its nocturnal cocoon, yet you desperately need to get to the outhouse.  Alternatives have run their course and the moment of truth has arrived. Oh, why did they have to construct the privy “a mile away” from your tent?  You aim your flashlight into the trees. The beam almost makes it to the nearest overhanging branches.  Adrenalin courses through your veins as you make the dash knowing there must be a bear behind every tree.

But, mercifully your Guardian Angel came through and there wasn’t -- unless...  What if you had been camping at Anan Creek.  Anan Creek has a big run of pink salmon -- the Alaska Department of Fish and Game escapement goal is 248,680 pinks.  I’m sure glad I’m not the one who has to count them, though.  If it were me I'd probably lose track somewhere around 248,602 and have to start over.  These humpies (a nick name for pink salmon) must navigate through a rapids and falls within sight of the intertidal zone.  For more years than I’ll ever know, black and brown bears have zeroed in on that constriction.  Lots of them.  As a result people have zeroed in on the bears.  Lots of them -- so many that the US Forest Service constructed a viewing platform and started requiring permits for up to 60 people per day. Fortunately they don’t all show up at once or the crowds at the railing would resemble something like track side during the Kentucky Derby.  This year Karen and I added to the throng when we joined Karl and Mary Schneider in booking Summit Charters for the hour and a half run to the Creek. 

In a sense Anan is like a reverse zoo with people restricted to the platform while the bears get to see what we’re up to.  Finding us less interesting, they head for the creek and the thousands of salmon schooled up in and below the rapids.  Anan is plugged with salmon this year so fishing is easy for the bears -- meaning most don’t linger around for visitors to snap that "cover of National Geographic photo."  They just waddle to the creek, grab a fish and, for all but a few alpha bears who “own” the rapids, waddle back into the forest for breakfast, snack time, lunch, dinner -- or could it be to show off their trophies to all their admiring fans on the viewing platform? 

The lagoon at the mouth of Anan Creek, the last place where salmon are safe from bears -- but not harbor seals.

                      Safe from those seals at last, pink salmon swim up Anan Creek.

Actually, a salmon is never safe from the moment it pops out as an egg until it finishes spawning.  This female (that evaded a gauntlet of predators for two years while she traveled thousands of miles) almost completed her life cycle.  Pink salmon females carry between 1500 and 2000 eggs of which only two (one male and one female) need to make it back to the spawning grounds for the population to remain constant. 

A confrontation at the falls.  Who's going to be the alpha bear?  Notice the pile of fish scraps to the right of the photo -- snack time for bald eagles, ravens and crows.  Yum!

Despite the creek being filled with salmon, this brown (grizzly) bear still struggled to master its fishing technique.

                     A sow black bear with two cubs provided great entertainment.

                             Another brown bear poised to nab a passing salmon.

Visitors wait in line to use the outhouse, the only part of the viewing area outside the platform.  The reason for the wait -- notice the black "object" to the right of the privy.

                                    Yes, the line forms behind this Anan resident.


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Dana said...

Look at the cubs! The sweetest! Thanks for sharing :), hope you'r happy and well!