Thank God for Shelter

August 12, 2015 Posted by: Joy Erlenbach

Back when I took the GRE test to get into grad school, one of the essay questions was: “is it necessary to experience bad to appreciate the good in life?” At the time, I think I wrote something about how it was not necessary, do to some innate feelings of happiness, etc., etc.…I would like now to amend my answer to that question. After experiencing some of the weather at Hallo Bay—which included blowing wind that wobbled my spotting scope to infectivity, pouring rain that drenched my lenses rendering them immediately and continually useless, and a dangerous combination of the two that caused my partner and I to retreat to the tent (the WeatherPort) huddling in a soggy ball all day, hoping our shelter wouldn’t blow over, and contemplating whether I could accurately pee in a jar instead of venturing outside—I can most certainly appreciate the good in life—heck, even the mediocre—better than I used to. Also, thank god for shelter.

View out of a tent into wet weatherLooking out of the WeatherPort, contemplating whether to go outside. NPS/J. Erlenbach.

The up side to the trip, though, was 1) that the bad weather was only temporary, and 2) that one of the bears we collared showed up in Hallo Bay. I had heard reports that she was there, but hadn’t witnessed it myself yet. I was lucky enough to see bear 085 and her two cubs my first night back and she looked great—she even grazed right in front of our camp. The next day we got to watch her clamming for a little bit, and later in the week we watched her try to fish, as well as foraging in the meadow and napping in front of visitors.

bear with radio collar (left) and bear digging in mud with yearling cubs (right)Bear 085 forages in the meadow in front of camp (left) and digs for clams with her two cubs (right). NPS/J. Erlenbach.

The part of this trip I was most excited about was getting to watch the bears starting to fish for salmon. It would be exciting because I’m really interested to see how the feeding dynamics at Hallo Bay change. Do new bears enter the area? Do bears quit feeding on clams and sedges when salmon arrive? It also adds a new fun degree of diversity to my observations. So, I anxiously awaited the arrival of salmon into Middle Creek, the main creek at my study site. One week in to my observations, though, there was still no noticeable salmon fishing. The bears would typically show up to the creek 2-3 hours before low tide and wait around for about an hour standing with their feet in the water watching patiently, and then leave when they deemed the fishing not worthwhile. As I sat there watching the bears patiently waiting, I giggled to myself, “Geeze, these guys sure are patient, waiting and watching for hours while nothing is happening” and then I chuckled harder, because that’s exactly what I was doing too.

bears waiting to fish for salmon at a tidal creekBears wait to fish at the mouth of Middle Creek during the beginning of my trip. NPS/J. Erlenbach.

The end of my trip culminated with a great opportunity to go out with one of the guides and experience what it is like for visitors to Hallo. We had the opportunity to get up close to the bears in a way I don’t typically get to do during my observations. I got to watch what looked like a play date between a sow with two yearlings and a sow with a small two year-old. At one point, the two year-old must have done something mom #2 didn’t like because mom #2 came charging at her growling. But, to my surprise, the 2 year-old stood her ground and growled right back! The audacity of this little one! (this is the same cub I mentioned chasing an adult across the tidal flats in my last blog post—but I had thought she was a yearling at that point). 

two bear families growlMom #2 with her two yearlings chastising mom #1’s two year-old. NPS/J. Erlenbach.

Unfortunately my trip ended on a slightly sadder note than watching playdate between cubs. I was informed the day I left Hallo Bay to come back to town for re-supply that one of bear 085’s cubs had been attacked and badly wounded. The rangers still out at Hallo Bay weren’t sure it would make it through the night, but in the morning they saw it limping around with mom. Nature in Hallo Bay continues to offer great, surprising, enlightening, and confusing experiences that can certainly make you feel a rollercoaster of emotions. I’m ready to head back out, check on bear 085, and see what else Hallo Bay offers this time.

Read more about Joy’s work as part of the Changing Tides project.

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Changing Tides, bears, research, Hallo Bay




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