Bear Watch

The big black bear is casually pawing aside a 200 pound boulder like it’s a beach ball.IMG_1016 He’s looking for one of my favorite foods-mussels. Occasionally, he locates one, and, with surprising dexterity, claws open the shell and downs the contents. I am about 100 feet away from the animal on the bow of a Zodiac and snapping pictures as fast as I can.

We are stopped along the shores of Meares Island a few miles east of Tofino, on the Pacific Coast of British Columbia. As with most wildlife in remote areas, our bruin isn’t in the slightest bit interested in our presence. Only once does he look up from his browsing to check us out with a look of utter indifference-or maybe hunger?-but certainly without any degree of fear or alarm.

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It’s drizzling now. It wasn’t supposed to rain today, which is why I booked the tour, but the weather up here is about as reliable as a Nicaraguan handyman, and so I’m glad they issued all of us wet weather gear and gloves before we left. Being on the bow of the craft, I have to turn backwards to keep the cold spray out of my face while we’re cruising, but now, parked as we are in the small cove where the bear is roaming, it isn’t an issue.

It strikes me, as I watch the big beast methodically searching for food, that most animals spend their entire life simply trying not to starve, similar to what men had to do not so long ago, and that we are very lucky as a species to be living in an age of relative plenty. My reverie is broken by the captain, who decides we should look for more bears elsewhere and so we bid farewell to the big boy on the beach.

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After only a few minutes, we spy a dozen seals lounging on the rocks of an unnamed island. It’s fun to watch them slither and bounce up onto the rocks from the water, but when we get a radio dispatch indicating that another bear has been sighted a few miles away, we say goodbye to the pinnipeds.

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At our next vantage point, we pull up even closer to a big male bear, and we observe him clambering over the rocks on shore. He moves with an easy, rambling gait-unhurried, and, like his predecessor, only vaguely interested in us. But then the rain begins in earnest, and so we head into port, but not before we spot 3 Bald Eagles standing along a pebbly shore.

When we come back into dock, there’s hot tea waiting for us. Like our other Canadian tours, there is no beggar’s cup being shaken for the poor, underpaid staff. Good policy!

I only have one real complaint with our adventure guide from Remote Passages Marine Excursions. Early in our 3 hour trip, the captain found out that the other couple seated in the bow with us were from his native California. I estimate the captain spent about 2 hours and 47 minutes of our time leaning around the windscreen and telling them about everything from his experience operating a bed and breakfast to his glory days as a California surfer dude in painful, yet exquisite, detail. The amazing thing is, his monologue continued even as the cold hard rain slapped his face as we progressed at full throttle up the inlet. The only thing that changed with our speed was his volume. By the time we finished our short ride, I could have told you everything except his cereal brand-or much of anything about bears.

Still, I enjoyed the tour. We got a close look at the big creatures, and that’s what we wanted after all. I’ve seen plenty of them up close and personal in Florida, but the BC variety are larger, and to see them in a natural environment far from any civilization is quite a thrill. If I went back, though, I’d focus on the whales. They are in abundance in these waters, and I have detailed a whale-watching tour I took in Victoria here.

If you go:

Your camera may get wet
You will not-the survival suits they issue are not only flotation devices-they keep you warm and dry.

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Ask for a discount-I got 10% off on the spot
$$$-about 80USD
Bring Binos

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