A rare Southeast Alaska blue sky––perhaps an omen of the coming rains––hung over Pavlov Harbor as we boarded our inflatable landing crafts for slow, quiet ferries to shore. Ten at a time, we eased to the shore, disembarked, took off our life jackets, and passed them back to the boat. We gathered in tight circles for whispered instructions: “Stay with the group. Keep your voices down. Always listen to your naturalists…”
In groups of twenty, we made our way along the shore to the designated viewing area, where we drew cameras with telephoto lenses and binoculars from our bags. A hundred-and-fifty yards upstream, a rushing cascade of whitewater tumbled over rocks and dropped twenty feet down to the broad, shallow stream below. The stream flowed past us to mix with the saltwater of the somewhat ironically named Freshwater Bay, with Chatham Strait beyond.
Standing side-by-side in the shallows between us and the falls, we spotted a pair of small brown bears––most likely siblings recently abandoned by a sow who has completed her parenting responsibilities. Their attention was split between the pink salmon that continually evaded their sharp claws. A larger sow with a cub was finding more success as she pounced on fish near the base of the falls.
All in all, eight different bears put on a show, some catching pink salmon, and others, having not perfected their strategy, coming up empty.
Back on the ship, our blue sky slowly faded to a tangerine sunset, and eighty guests tucked in for dreams of bears and Alaska weather.