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In August 2004 I made a long awaited visit to Northern British Columbia, close to the Alaskan border. One of the main reasons for my visit was to get some first hand experience of Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, the only reserve in North America specifically designated for the protection of Grizzly Bears. Situated at the head of a remote coastal inlet, 50 miles north of Prince Rupert, the reserve is renowned for excellent Spring viewing when the bears can be viewed from a boat sitting just offshore as they graze on estuarine sedge grasses. My visit was somewhat ill timed however as the bears were transitioning to feeding on spawning salmon on the dozens of inaccessible streams and rivers that flow down from the surrounding mountains, and sightings weren't as easy to come by as a result. Early one evening however, my guide spotted a large adult male as he emerge from a small creek and then went for a cooling swim in the estuary.

By keeping our distance we were able to stay in contact with this bear who my guide knew as "Cocoa" as he swam from one side of the inlet to the other - a distance of at least a mile. This was fascinating to me because although I have frequently seen grizzlies swim while catching salmon, I had never seen one attempt to swim such a large expanse of open water. It was also unique because this was the first, and to this day still the only adult male grizzly I have seen. These dominant males are notoriously shy of people and are therefore rarely sighted. Females with cubs and sub-adults on the other hand sometimes gravitate towards area where there is human activity as they know this will scare away the large males who are a threat to them.

A few days later I was again searching for grizzlies, this time on foot in a pristine wilderness area to the east of Prince Rupert. Hiking through some dense old growth forest with my guide, we were frequently startled by Bald Eagles taking flight nearby. On more than one occasion an eagle had passed by overhead before I had a chance to bring my camera. At the umpteenth attempt a young immature Bald Eagle flew out of a tree to my right and passed close by directly overhead and I managed to capture the image above shooting more or less shot blind as it whizzed by.

There's more to Northern BC than bear and bald eagles however. It is also one of Canada's premier whale watching destinations and in the summer the waters either side of the Canada/Alaksa territorial divide are frequented by Humpback Whales which come from Hawaii to feed here. It is the only place in the world where you can see these magnificent whales "bubble netting" for schooling fish, and their acrobatics make them one of the most popular sightings on whale watching cruises. I went out on two whale watching excursions from Prince Rupert and on both occasions enjoyed prolonged encounters with small pods of females with calves.


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