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I was delighted to wake up and look outside of my tent to see nothing but fog on what was supposed to be our last morning in Katmai. Zero visibility means zero chance of a bush plane landing on the beach to pick us up. So instead of eating a quick breakfast and flying back to civilization we were putting our rain gear back on and heading out to photograph more bears.
To make a long story short, after a few hours of bear viewing in the meadow We were headed back to camp. As far as I knew this was it. Our trip was over. Camp was in our view and the clouds were lifting. Soon the bush plane would arrive to pick us up. We stopped for a minute to watch a skinny male bear way out in the ocean jumping around looking for fish. His situation must have been somewhat desperate because the salmon hadn't even started running yet. The skinny bears next move was to run out of the ocean and chase off a female that was walking along the shore. We grabbed our tripods and started to head back now that both bears had disappeared into the woods. Then once again the skinny male bear popped back out of the woods and headed towards the ocean. He stopped halfway to sniff what I thought was a piece of driftwood. A closer inspection through my lens revealed that the piece of drift wood was actually a dead sea otter that had washed ashore. A sea otter with all its fat is a jackpot for a skinny bear. He wasted no time starting to feed on his new prize. Knowing it wouldn't be long before more bears with their keen sense of smell would be on the scene. Sure enough within minutes an enormous female brown bear about a half mile behind us started to make a beeline in our direction. We all closed together as tight as possible trying to make our group of 4 as little as we could. We could potentially be getting ourselves right in the middle of a fight between the largest land predators on the continent and didn't want to stand in their way. Even though a fight was a slim possibility no one was really expecting one. The female was considerably larger than the male and I assumed he would just submit to her and give up his meal. As she got closer it became apparent that the skinny male wasn't going anywhere without a fight. He stood over the top the otter and held his ground. The female did a large half circle to the top of the beach and in a blink of the eye the fight was on. All in all it probably lasted only about 30 seconds, but it was without question the most exciting half minute I've ever experienced. The sight and sounds of watching two massive coastal brown bears in an all out fight was like nothing I could have imagined. It was the first time I've ever had what I would describe as a pure adrenaline rush while taking photos. It sounds cliche but it literally sent chills down my spine. It was a pure raw display of power. The large female easily out powered the skinny male, winning the fight. Interestingly enough though, she simply sniffed the otter and moved on. Deciding she didn't want it and leaving it for the battered but ultimately succesful male. After that a few more bears came by and made some half-hearted attempts for the otter but the skinny bear held his ground and came away victorious. After the show was over we left the bear to his meal and headed back to camp. We radioed the bush plane and within an hour it was there to pick us up and we were headed out of Katmai. I sat in the plane watching the massive mountains and glaciers pass by feeling like the luckiest person on the planet.
More of this series...
Alaskan Brown Bears - Katmai - Alaska
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