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Official Blog of the Great Bear II

First class wilderness adventures and holiday cruises on the coast of British Columbia.

Current | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 |2019 | 2018-2016 | 2015 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006-2004

Friday, December 1, 2023

A WHALE OF A TIME in the Great Bear Rainforest...

Humpback in early morning mists
Stepping out on deck, into the misty morning with our first coffee of the day, seemed blissful enough. Everyone on deck spoke in a whisper so as not to disturb the serenity.

Still shrouded in mist, we could only hear a nearby Humpback whale breathing, and then her long, deep breath, that signalled the start of a deep dive.

Out of the mists she suddenly appeared with water streaming off her enormous tail, backlit by an ethereal light. The only sound was the sea water cascading from her tail like the nearby waterfalls rushing over thousands of feet of polished granite. As she slipped beneath the sea, each of us stared in disbelief, as if it had all been a dream.

Humpback breaching in setting sun
Humpback whales bubble-net feeding

The quiet and calm of that morning is a rarity when we consider the exciting Humpback whale behaviours we enjoy on many of our trips. There really is nothing quite like seeing a Humpback fly out of the sea in a full breach, or when we see the tell tail circle of bubbles in the sea before the bubble net feeding Humpbacks rush to the surface with their mouths wide open, scooping the corralled herring!

It doesn't end there. While the Humpbacks offer up the most extensive variety of mesmerizing behaviours, sharing time with Orca, always brings everyone out on deck, no matter what the weather is doing!

Witnessing the power and stealth of a behemoth, male Orca swimming directly towards us, or an entire pod of Orca hunting for marine mammals along rocky shorelines, or enjoying the antics of a young Orca calf as he plays like a puppy along side his family as they travel, are just some of the thrilling Orca behaviours we've witnessed.

Orca patrolling rocks for marine mammals
Large male Orca
Small Orc calf with his mother
Young Orca calf playing
On our more northern trips along the outer islands of the Great Bear Rainforest, we see Fin whales, the second largest whales in the world!

While Fin Whales don't exhibit any of the more exciting behaviours that Humpbacks and Orca do, the enormity of these whales makes seeing these gentle giants, a real privilege.

As we travel, we are often joined by Pacific White Sided Dolphins and/or Dalls Porpoises that like to ride on our ship's bow wake. The acrobatics of Pacific White Sided Dolphins and the bullet speeds of the Falls Porpoises are behaviours we never forget.

Pacific White Sided dolphin
On some of our trips over the years, we've been fortunate to either welcome marine biologists on board or visit marine researchers at their remote research station along the outer islands of the northern Great Bear Rainforest.

Whale Watching will be featured on both our Great Bear Rainforest in Spring trips plus our 9-day trip in Haida Gwaii in 2024.

Our 9-day Great Bear Rainforest trip in late June, will take us through critical feeding habitat for Humpback whales and hopefully provide an opportunity to meet with whale researchers in the area.

In late September 2023, we were honoured to welcome Sydney Dixon, Marine Specialist with Pacific Wild, on board for a week long trip in the Great Bear Rainforest.

The following are Sydney's thoughts and observations.

Photo Credits: @pacificwild and @sydneydixon

The waters of British Columbia (B.C.) are home to at least 25 different species of whale, dolphin, and porpoise, collectively known as cetaceans. During the months of fall, the ocean bordering the Great Bear Rainforest pulse with one last surge of life before winter sets in. Fattening up before their long migration south to breeding grounds, humpback whales hungrily gorge on forage fish, like herring.

Photo Credits: @pacificwild and @sydneydixon

When these whales depart B.C. for warmer waters, they will fast for the majority of their time away, losing up to 50% of their mass. In order to pack on the fat reserves they need for breeding season, humpback whales have evolved a number of remarkably effective hunting strategies to capture large quantities of prey at a time. In the Great Bear Rainforest, the most spectacular of these feeding strategies is bubble-net feeding.

Photo Credits: @pacificwild and @sydneydixon

Bubble-net feeding can be performed solo by single whales or cooperatively in groups. When the hunt commences the whale(s) descends on a dive below the surface in a broad shallow curve, expelling a chain of air from their blowhole, forming a cylindrical ring of bubbles (often resembling a cork-screw), as they go. Forage fish, like herring, are confused and confined at the water's surface into a tightly packed ball by the rising bubbles.

Photo Credits: @pacificwild and @sydneydixon

The whale(s) will often sing a low feeding call, followed by higher pitched squeals designed to further startle and congregate the prey into tighter schools. Then, the whale(s) shoot upwards, mouths agape, capturing massive mouthfuls of prey at a time. This fall, aboard the Great Bear II, we were fortunate to see three humpback whales solo bubble net feeding in the deep fjords of the Great Bear Sea.

Using photo identification, the whales were identified as BCX1582, BCX1853 (nicknamed Makwala) and BCY0779 (nicknamed Howl). Howl is a well-known bubble-net feeder to humpback whale researchers along the central coast of B.C.. Following the end of commercial whaling in Canadian waters and their subsequent protection, humpback whale populations have been steadily increasing in B.C. In 2017, the North Pacific humpback population was down-listed from Threatened to of Special Concern.

Photo Credits: @pacificwild and @sydneydixon

Since their status change from Threatened to Special Concern, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has invested less time and resources into monitoring and cataloging the return of humpback whales to B.C. There is concern by some researchers that the humpback whales off Canada's Pacific Coast are managed as one population, since they generally have different breeding grounds. As soon as the same whales pass into U.S. waters, they are managed as several different populations of which two are recognized as being endangered.

The bulk of the still very critical monitoring and cataloging work is now being spearheaded as a largely collaborative effort by environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGO) and individual citizen scientists.

Photo Credits: @pacificwild and @sydneydixon

While humpback whales may not be year-round residents of the waters surrounding the Great Bear Rainforest, killer whales (also nicknamed orcas) are. There are three genetically distinct populations of killer whales in B.C., fish-eating Residents, marine mammal-eating Bigg's (also called Transient) and shark-eating Offshores.

On our voyage, we encountered a family, often referred to as a "gang" of Bigg's killer whales. Killer whales, like humpback whales, can be identified and monitored using photo identification. The gang spotted aboard the Great Bear II was the T007Bs, a family consisting of five members. T007B (nicknamed Spiller) is the mother and matriarch of the rest of the members of her gang. She is approximately 41 years old and is the only surviving calf of T007 (Innis), and is her only known daughter.

Photo Credits: @pacificwild and @sydneydixon

In 1975, several years before Spiller's birth, her mother, Innis, and her older brother were captured in Pedder Bay, B.C. for the aquaria trade. Unfortunately, her older brother was taken into captivity, and Innes was released a few days after the capture. Seeing killer whales in the wild is a privilege. Today, we know that killer whales often travel great distances every day and are not well-suited to life in captivity.

Because of Innis's release, her matriline (the T007s) lives on. Also known as the "Secret Agents" the T007B family consists of T007B (Spiller, female, b. 1982) T007B3 (Knox, male, b. 2005), T007B4 (Moonraker, male, b. 2010), T007B6 (Domino, male, born 2018) and T007B7 (male, born 2022).
While Whale Watching is a HUGE part of our trips in the Great Bear Sea, Grizzly Bears demonstrate why this part of the world has been dubbed the Great BEAR Rainforest. These beautiful photos from Sydney Dixon share a glimpse of the non-stop feeding on salmon that these great bears are undertaking in late August and September in the Great Bear Rainforest.

Photo Credits: @pacificwild and @sydneydixon

This particular bear family (Mama Bear with her two yearling cubs) provide our guests with lessons on who Grizzly Bears really are, (as opposed to the rhetoric used by their hunters as they try to justify their killing.)

We have spent time observing, photographing and learning from Mama Bear and her cubs over the past 24 years, all the while, developing a trusting relationship, making for very special moments for our guests and crew.

Photo Credits: @pacificwild and @sydneydixon

The word "habituated" is often used by those that do not understand who these bears really are, in an attempt to suggest that unless bears are fearful of us, they are dangerous and we aren't safe. When we consider that fear causes all species to behave unpredictably, with humans demonstrating this most profoundly, we can then understand that treating these bears fairly, is what will keep them and ourselves safe.

(Flight or fight is normal, but what humans take to a whole new level, is killing when they are fearful. We only have to look around the world right now to see this or learn about the excuses hunter centric government employees and bureaucrats use to try to justify the killing of wildlife, especially animals they call "predators".)

Photo Credits: @pacificwild and @sydneydixon

Mama Bear however, has regularly shown how patient and tolerant she is, even with boaters whose behaviours demonstrate their ignorance and lack of respect for these bears. It's often said, among those who understand who these bears are, that they are far more trusting and tolerant of humans, than we deserve.

In the company of this great bears, we have endless opportunities to learn who they truly are: patient, trusting of those who respect them, plus both intelligent and emotionally intelligent. There is no where else on earth we'd rather be, than in the company of Mama and her cubs.

Stay tuned for our next Great Bear Blog that will feature stories and photos of Mama and her little ones.

Friday, January 27, 2023


Winter in the Great Bear Rainforest Winter in the Great Bear Rainforest

Photo Credits: Kriss Duncan

Grizzly Bear mothers choose dens higher up mountain slopes while Black Bear mothers choose dens in lower elevations. At birth, Grizzly Bear cubs weigh about 11 ounces to 1 pound 6 ounces, while Black Bear cubs weigh between 8 and 12 ounces.

When the cubs emerge from the den with their mothers, they are approximately 10 - 12 weeks old with Grizzly Bear cubs weighing approximately 10 - 20 pounds and Black Bear cubs weighing about 4 - 8 pounds.

Grizzly Bear cubs typically stay with their mothers until the spring (when they turn 3), while Black Bear cubs generally stay with their mothers until the spring (when they turn 1 or 2, depending on food availability).

Right now, in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest on the central coast of B.C., there is snow still on the ground in most areas where bears are denning.
A tender moment between mama and her cub Four months old & learning to eat sedge grass

When we begin our trips there in May, most bears are out of hibernation and have come to the river estuaries to feast on the protein rich sedge grass and early Salmon berries. The bear cubs are learning from their mothers by copying her every move: what and how to eat different foods, where to find fresh water and how to stay safe from predators.

Mother Grizzly and Cub Nothing is sweeter than watching tiny bear cubs sampling Sedge grass or Teredo (which are a tiny saltwater clam that burrows in old wood) or Skunk Cabbage roots, sweet Salmon berries and even Barnacles.

These lessons are not only crucial to the cubs' own survival, but important for female cubs to teach their cubs one day.

The trusting relationships we have built with Bears, over 25+ years in this part of the world, means some extraordinary shared moments with mother Bears and their cubs.

Their trust in us is humbling and reminds us of why it is SO important that our guests learn who these bears really are and not the scary monster stories told to so many people, by those that kill bears for cash, kicks and trophies.

While we understand of course that these beautiful animals are not "teddy bears", the way in which we conduct ourselves in their homelands makes ALL the difference.
They are supposed to stay hidden while Mama is away foraging, but... Learning what to eat at low tide by watching their mama
Learning to stand on her back legs
Bears are emotionally intelligent beings which is often demonstrated within these bear families. Watching bear cubs play with each other, snuggle up to their mothers when they are scared, the way the mother holds her cubs when she nurses, and the way she assures them, are only a few of the many behaviours that prove that bears are indeed sentient beings and very worthy of our respect, considerations, and most of all worthy of us speaking up for them when they misunderstood.

Our relationship with bears is not only crucial to their well-being and survival, but to our own. As the world seems to spin out of control, nature is all important. We need to remember that we are not separate nor superior to nature, but a part of nature itself and in truly understanding this, we will lead healthier, more fulfilled lives.

While we watch tiny bear cubs swing in the low branches of bushes and trees, while they wrestle with each other, and while their mother holds them and hums to them while they nurse, we are grateful for and humbled by their trust in us and shown the truth of who bears really are.

Paying attention to mama when she senses danger We are also grateful for and humbled by all the First Nations People in whose territories we travel, who take stewardship of their lands and animals, so seriously.

In spring, we are traveling primarily in the territories of the Heiltsuk People of Bella Bella and the Kitasoo Xai'xais People of Klemtu, and sometimes a little into Gitga'at Territory, home to the People of Hartley Bay.

If you have a trip planned with us in Spring in the Great Bear Rainforest, we look forward to meeting you in person and sharing our favourite part of the world with you. Until then, we hope you are enjoying nature where you live and travel!

Grizzly Bear mum and cubs swimming at sunset to night beds in rainforest

Join us... and discover how "you're connected with everything."

Current | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 |2019 | 2018-2016 | 2015 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006-2004

First class BC wilderness cruises, coastal tours and charters on the West Coast of British Columbia aboard the 54 ft. Great Bear II, out of Vancouver, BC.
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