September 3, 2008

Alaska Photo Diary Part 2

Cama’i from Anchorage. (That’s sort of like Aloha from HI.)

Well the first of three air legs of my trip is done. I am safely in my hotel. My gear all made the trip without incident. TSA in Seattle didn’t give my big 200-400 f/4 VR lens a second look. Perhaps all the big glass that came in and out for the Olympics sensitized them.

I’ll spend the day in Anchorage. Then tonight our team will assemble for an orientation and bear safety meeting. We’ll have at least one more safety meeting. We want to make sure everyone comes home safe.

Several of you emailed to ask if I was going to take bear spray or a firearm. The answer is no on both counts. First, neither would do any good against bears of this size. If they want to eat me, then I’m screwed. And while using a firearm would certainly kill the bear, he/she would take longer to die than I would. And with the possible exception of a lucky shot, right in the eyes of the bear at point-blank range, the best bear spray will only piss off bears this large. So we’re going to follow the bear safety rules, i.e., stay in as large a group as we can, don’t turn our backs on the bears, pay attention to our surroundings, don’t put ourselves between a bear and its food source or cubs or ANYTHING else it wants for that matter.

We also won’t make direct eye contact with an agitated bear. That is a sign of aggression. Instead, I like to use this approach. I keep myself aware of the bear’s location by looking at its feet.

We’re also trained to watch for warning signs. When a bear takes notice of you, if he/she wants to harm you – there’s little guesswork involved. They have an ability to look right through you – when that happens, you need to change something and usually, that’s your location.

They also point their ears back, square up their shoulders, huff, snort or bark and eventually bluff charge before taking life-threatening action. I assure you that I have no intent of letting the bear get to more than the first warning sign before I take heed.

Finally, we’ve been trained not to make sudden movements – including movements away from the bears. Trying to outrun a creature that can run 35 miles per hour makes no sense. Also running triggers something called the “chase response.” I don’t know about you, but the words “chase” and “bear” in a sentence that involves “me” is not cool. So there’s no use in trying. Instead – if we need to move to make the bear happy, we’ll move slowly, deliberately – backing up, talking in a flat, monotone calming voice, and keeping our eye on our surroundings at all times.

Oh, and the best advice I’ve gotten is again from my pal Artie Morris who told me, “Whatever you do, don’t set your tripod up too near a pile of fish guts.” Sounds like good advice to me.

I’m off to look for a satellite phone for the trip.

I’ll write more when I get through the next flight leg which will put me at Kodiak airport. From there we’ll catch the sea plane.

Join the conversation! 0 Comments

  1. Reminds me of a bit from one of my favorite comedians, Mike Birbiglia: “I asked my girlfriend, What do you fear most? And she said that you’ll meet someone else and leave me. Then she asked me what I feared most and I said Bears…

  2. Jeepers Scott, I’m terrified already!

    Did they give you advice on how to stop trembling when one of those things look at you and you’re trying to take a picture!?

    One hell of an adventure though.

    Take care and keep smiling!!


  3. If you’ve never seen a bear run after something (not just jog- but really run after something), you’ll never really know what its like. Some bears are so large, it’s simply mind boggling that they are able to stand, let alone run very fast and climb very high.

    I’m very, very eager to see how Scott captures the size of these animals. I assume we’ll get to see some if his work (right Scott?)

  4. Remember this one important point Scott. You don’t have to outrun the bear, just your fellow photographers. Have a safe trip.

  5. Thanks for the opportunity to live vicariously through you, Scott. I hope you are able to keep the updates coming, and I can’t wait to see images.

  6. Wow sounds amazing. What an adrenaline rush I’m not sure I could take photos for the first two days or indeed the entire trip.

    That 200-400mm is going to get some use I think I would lock it at 400 and stay as far back as possible and as you said you just have to make sure you look less tempting than the guy next to you.

  7. It’s only now i appreciate how dangerous taking pictures of animals like these in the wild are. It struck me that a really good shot might me with the bear charging straight at the camera- but that involves a *little* bit of risk. Maybe add a lensbaby to the mix. Sweet.

    Enjoy the trip Scott. Have a safe journey.

  8. Scott thanks again for the great post, it gets me about a close as I’ll ever get to photographing bears in the wilderness. I’m sure we are all looking forward to more news of your adventure.

    Give my regards to Yogi and Boboo if you see them.

    SLO Ca. Central Coast

  9. I’ll keep the updates coming as long as I have Internet access – but I am not sure how long that will be. I’ll keep writing them and then post once I get back to civilization – and yes Joe – you’ll see some pics :)

  10. You should be able to get some decent shots of Bald Eagles there too – given the way the bears leave all that extra food laying around. Really enjoying your posts!

  11. Have a great adventure buddy! Can’t wait to see the pics :)

  12. Hey Scott. On the gun issue, I would suggest a small pocket-sized .22 with one hollow-point bullet. You could use it on yourself to avoid the indignity of being eaten alive. ;-))
    That’s why we carried those stupid pea-shooting Berretta 9mm’s in Iraq. If we ran out of M16 ammo, the Beretta meant we wouldn’t be taken alive. Looking forward to some great pics.

  13. good luck! ps. 2 pairs of socks!

  14. Best wishes Scott! I’m looking forward to the Alaskan adventure episode of TWiP!

  15. Man, I am jealous, enjoy your trip!! I have shot some wildlife, but never at this level.

  16. There must be a very experienced guide by your side at all times on this trip, right? A guide that will make sure all the photographers in the group don’t do anything crazy trying to get “the shot.”

    I’d like to see some “comedy shots” of the bears, if there are any Scott. Like if they ever lie on their backs and roll around a bit.

  17. This reminds me of a poem:

    Algy met a bear
    The bear met Algy
    The bear was bulgy
    The bulge was Algy

    Have fun, Scott but don’t be bulgy.

  18. I’m reminded of that famous “bear advisory” sign that reads….

    Bear Advisory

    The Forest Service has issued a BEAR WARNING in the national forests for this summer. They’re urging everyone to protect themselves by wearing bells and carrying pepper spray.

    Campers should be alert for signs of fresh bear activity, and they should be able to tell the difference between Black Bear dung and Grizzly Bear dung.

    Black Bear dung is rather small and round. Sometimes you can see fruit seeds and/or squirrel fur in it.

    Grizzly Bear dung has bells in it, and smells like pepper spray!


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