B.C. Beauty: Grizzly Bears outside Prince Rupert

by Chris on May 27, 2012

Pictures from a wildlife excursion to the Khutzeymateen Valley, a grizzly bear sanctuary outside Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia.

This is first of a series of posts from Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Grizzly bears, Prince Rupert
When I posted this on Facebook a few days ago, people didn’t think it was real. “That has GOT to be a guy in a bear suit,” several friends said. But it was indeed real – and just one of five bears that I saw on my excursion to the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary in northern British Columbia.

Boat trip to Khutzeymateen, British Columbia

My six-hour excursion started in Prince Rupert, a small city of 13,500 on the British Columbia coast.  Prince Rupert Adventure Tours charges $195 for the tour, which includes lunch. You can judge for yourself from the wildlife photos below whether or not you think it’s worth it; I’d go again in a heartbeat (many Prince Rupert photography buffs buy season passes so they can go view the bears as often as there’s room).

Seals outside Prince Rupert

The Khutzeymateen Valley is located about two hours from Prince Rupert by boat, on a secluded fjord just south of the Alaska border (you can see the US mountains clearly, although they don’t look any different from the ones in British Columbia). Along the way, captain Doug Davis and and guide Normand Aubin looked for whales, orcas and other wildlife. We lucked out with by spotting a seal colony.

Wildlife spotting outside Prince Rupert

Bear viewing in the sanctuary is best during May, June and July, before the salmon runs start in earnest. During these months, the bears come down to the beaches to eat kelp and dig for clams, mussels and barnacles. They even eat sage grass, up to 30 or 40 pounds a day. Once we entered the valley, Normand trained his binoculars on the coast, looking for movement along the coast.

Grizzly bears, Prince Rupert
The Khutzeymateen Valley has the largest concentration of grizzly bears in North America. Its conditions are also perfect for females, who must shelter their cubs from aggressive males that might kill them. Within a few minutes of entering the valley, we encountered one such mama.

Grizzly bears outside Prince Rupert

Sound carries when you’re in a fjord, so we were instructed to keep still as we watched the bears dig in the sand for food. Binoculars were available, but I saw everything through my camera’s zoom and snapped most of these photos from inside the boat (people with larger cameras than mine were hogging space in the back). The little cubs were probably born earlier in the year, Normand told.

Grizzly bears, Prince Rupert

When our vessel was about 100 feet away, the mama seemed to notice us. Ever protective, she nudged her cubs back up the beach toward the forest.

Khutzeymateen Valley, British Columbia
At this point, we took a break for lunch. The outfitter provides sandwiches, chips and fruit, along with soda, water and coffee. We picnicked at the floating ranger station, which came with an outstanding view. The Valley is only accessible by boat or seaplane.

Grizzly bear, Prince Rupert
It wasn’t long until we came upon our next bear, also walking along the beach (this is the same bear that’s standing upright in the post’s first photo).

Grizzly bear, Prince Rupert
As you might remember from scout class, grizzly bears can be quite dangerous if provoked. They can run up to 30 mph on land and can also swim. While they can look skinny in the beginning of the season, as this one does, they grow fatter as the summer unfolds, particularly when fish come into their diet.

Grizzly bears, Prince Rupert

The bear became agitated at one point, and kept looking over the hill, as if he/she was nervous. After the bear went up on its hind legs, our captain became curious and motored over to see what was bothering it. We found another mama bear, this time with a single, more mature cub.

Grizzly bears, Prince Rupert
Cubs typically stay with their mothers for three years. Doug and Normand have watched this mama bear and her cub over the past two seasons. Next year, the cub might be ready to go off on his own.

Grizzly bears, Prince Rupert
Despite being familiar with the bears, Normand refuses to do anything that encourages people to think of them as anything other than free creatures. “The moment you give a name to a wild animal, it becomes a pet,” he said. “So we don’t give them names.”

This video shows the single bear walking across the beach, and gives you a long lens view of their Valley habitat.

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Kent @ No Vacation Required May 28, 2012 at 7:11 am

How thrilling! Looks like our type of adventure 🙂


Chris May 29, 2012 at 8:15 am

It really was. I loved seeing the tiny cubs.


Angela May 29, 2012 at 1:05 am

These bears are so cute, I like the philoshophy behind not giving them a name, I totally agree!


Chris May 29, 2012 at 8:15 am

Angela, I thought it was a good philosophy too.


Bohemian Trails June 1, 2012 at 1:50 pm

I would love to see one of these bears up close! So cool that you had the chance.


Chris June 3, 2012 at 8:02 pm

I’m in the Northwest Territories now and we saw a black bear less than 3 feet from our car! I’m going to post some photos soon. Canada is bear-riffic!


Abby June 3, 2012 at 11:11 am

Oh my gosh! I always wondered why people said bears could look alarmingly cute. I never understood — until now!


Chris June 3, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Abby – Yep, they look cute, but can be so dangerous. I’ve been in the Northwest Territories for the past few days and have heard NUMEROUS stories of people getting mauled by bears. You don’t want to fool around with them. I’m more nervous than ever about them now!


Mark June 18, 2012 at 5:04 am

I had a nice shot of BC black bears on the May long weekend. A mom with her 3 cubs less than 50 feet away. Yikes, keep the kids indoors!



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