Great Bear Rainforest Snapshots

from the Sept. 3-11, 2013 trip

Cruising in the Great Bear Rainforest in September. Photo (c) Greg Shea

Salmon Bay

Eagles wait on the beach, along the rivers, and in trees. In the sea, salmon move in pulsing rhythms, waiting their turn to enter their natal streams. Upstream, they are so thick that you can believe the stories that you could walk across on their backs. This is a big run, and the perfect introduction to the Great Bear Rainforest.

Fiords and Dolphins

A steep dramatic fiord slices deep into the mainland. At its end, a tidal rapid opens into a beautiful wide lagoon. As we cruise along in our inflatable boats, we are joined by two Pacific white-sided dolphins riding our bow waves, passing from one boat to another and showing us we are not alone in the sheer joy we feel in this place.

Grizzly bear cub, photographed on a Great Bear Rainforest trip. Photo (c) Brandon Harvey.

Grizzly Bear Encounter

A mother grizzly and her two-year-old cub wander up the estuary when another bear crosses the river towards them. They take off at a gallop and the other bear pursues. Later when the danger has passed, we watch the same mother and cub busily eating as many salmon as they possibly can to prepare for the winter ahead.

Dancing in the Bighouse

Beautifully carved totems support the immense beams of the bighouse. At one end men sing and beat a huge log with sticks in a hypnotic rhythm, while figures wearing beautiful button blankets and cedar bark hats move in a circling dance. We are invited to dance with them, and in our imagination join those who have danced this way for thousands of years.

The Milky Way sprawls above the SV Maple Leaf, anchored in the Great Bear Rainforest. Photo (c) Brandon Harvey

Sunset and Stars

Our campfire glows in colours matching those of the setting sun. Small islets are silhouetted against the sky. As day shifts to night, stars fill the sky and the Milky Way stretches all the way to the horizon. We make our way back to the ship in waters whose bioluminescence also seems star-filled and we are completely enveloped by twinkling lights.

Frolicking Sea Lions

The high tide has many sea lions at a haul out swimming in the water. Maple Leaf floats near by and dozens of animals approach us in large groups. They snort, blow bubbles, and occasionally roar, It seems humans are not the only ones with a huge capacity for curiosity.

Waiting for a Spirit Bear

We put in a long day hoping to see a spirit bear. We wait. We extend the time we decided to wait. We wait some more. We extend the time again. And then it happens. The white bear emerges from the forest as we let out a collective gasp. Words can not describe how we feel. Our patience has been rewarded.

Hot Soak

Beautiful clean hot water flows from the rocks, filling a pool, and we all soak. The water is a perfect temperature. We are relaxed. We are happy. We are clean.

Breaching Humpback

How much power must it take for a humpback whale to break free of the water, and fall back with a huge splash? The whale near our boat does this time and time again. It tries different manoeuvres falling forwards and backwards. Why does it do it? Communication? Parasites? Fun? We all feel lucky to be witnesses to this mystery.

Another Grizzly Encounter

We walk across the estuary and find the bear stomp — the place where bears put their feet in the same place each time they pass through. We find bear hair in a tree. And then on the river, we watch a beautiful grizzly fishing for salmon. It seems like we have followed the clues to the prize.

Outer Islands

We reach the beautiful sandy beach just before sunset. The wolves were here before us, as we see their tracks crossing the sand. We don’t see them and we don’t hear them, but we know they are nearby. These islands are not very big.

– Updates by naturalist Sherry Kirkvold, aboard the SV Maple Leaf

To learn more, visit the page about our Great Bear Rainforest tour.

Aug 24-26 (first 3 days of a 9-day trip)

Sent via satellite from the SV Maple Leaf Wheelhouse, Sept. 2013
Starting the Great Bear Rainforest tour, Maple Leaf Adventures

The Maple Leaf, anchored in the wild Great Bear Rainforest, at sunset. Photo by Brandon Harvey of Maple Leaf Adventures

Welcome, Whales and More

Our cheery group all rendezvoused smoothly dockside of Maple Leaf at the town wharf in Port McNeil. After our welcome aboard coffees and ship orientation from Captain James and crew, we headed southeast into Johnstone Strait.

Within the hour, we had spotted our first whales — a group of Orcas traveling along the coast near Telegraph Cove. Several females and one small youngster, plus two large bulls with towering slightly wavey fins were not far away. We could hear them all calling back and forth on the hydrophone First Mate Nick deployed off the stern, and a beautiful rainbow arched behind our view.

Amazingly, the orcas were accompanied by both a small group of Dall’s porpoises as well as four or five Pacific White-sided Dolphins. This was first whales ever seen by several of the guests so we were all pretty stoked to have such great views of three species of marine mammals in the first afternoon of the trip.

Northern resident orcas and a Pacific whitesided dolphin, in the Broughton Archipelago. Photo by Tavish Campbell on a Maple Leaf trip.

Sunset, Bear and a Feast

We watched the sunset illuminate the evening mists over the water in soft shades of pink and orange and saw a black bear turning rocks on the beach next to our anchorage at west Compton Island…and we were introduced to the delightfully delicious feasts from the galley for our first evening’s dinner, prepared by Chef James M.

Kwakwaka’wakw Stories and Salmon

On our first morning aboard, we headed into the Broughton Archipelago, stopping to visit Darcy, a Kwakwaka’wakw storyteller, at his  beach-side camp near White Beach Passage. After stories of the Thunderbird Kooloose and the guiding spirit world under the sea, we saw fresh pink salmon roasted by a fire on the beach and combined a shore side picnic from the ship with fresh salmon and halibut. Delicious treat!

A Rich World for Whales, Dolphins and Seabirds Before Us

Common murres in the southern Great Bear Rainforest. Photo by Kevin J Smith, Maple Leaf Adventures

As we munched through lunch, we watched across Blackfish Sound and saw a huge group of hundreds of Pacific White-sided Dolphins rushing en masse back and forth past Maple Leaf offshore. Back onboard, we watched several humpbacks join the feeding frenzy, lunging upwards, mouthes open and throats’ extended.

We continued northward into the Broughtons watching flocks of Rhinoceros Auklets, Common Murres (many with young of the year), several species of gulls and about a dozen more feeding humpbacks off the west end of Bonwick Island. More lunge feeding was observed as we drifted and we could see different whales lolling and rolling. We could see the whale barnacles and patterns which are used to by whale researchers to photo identify individuals.

Clam Gardens

Humpback whales in the Great Bear Rainforest. Photo by Brandon Harvey on a Maple Leaf trip.

We threaded our way slowly through the complex of islets and passage ways, passing islands bristling with cedar forest of a thousand colours of green, into a secure and sheltered anchorage near Tracey Island. We heard about clam gardens and the story of how coastal researchers met Kwakwaka’wakw elders to bring back knowledge of traditional use. [editor’s note: The author’s husband, John Harper, explored many of the coast’s clam gardens and his efforts were key in bringing knowledge of these gardens to a wider audience.]

Kayaks, The Intertidal World

The next morning, coffee and tea pots steamed on deck as the sun peeped softly over the silhouetted trees on the point islet next to us. Conditions were perfect for a morning kayak paddle, water so still the reflections were exact mirrors of the forest and barnacle covered bedrock intertidal. Exquisite.

We left the mother ship at anchor and took the inflatables through narrow tidal channel (the water was high enough to let us pass) where we could hang over the sides to see eelgrass, several different types of sea stars and plumose tufts of anemones and burrowing sea cucumbers.

Billy Proctor, a Coastal Elder

We zipped across to visit Billy Proctor’s famous museum at Echo Bay. Billy has become a local legend, having lived and fished and explored the whole Broughton area for pretty much his whole life and we all wished we could stay all day to listen to his stories.

We crossed back northwest across Queen Charlotte Sound to find a protected bay for overnight, secure against predicted weather passing through, and prepared to round Cape Caution at first light the next morning.

– update by naturalist Mary Morris aboard the SV Maple Leaf


The report from the second half of this trip in early September 2013:

Great Bears Among the Great Fjords

A grizzly bear mum and cub in the Great Bear Rainforest in fall, ready to get some more salmon. Photo by (c) Greg Shea on a Maple Leaf trip.

We are just leaving a very special place in Fjordland, after watching grizzly bear mum and teenage cub foraging on gravel bar in the river.

They were surrounded by 100s of spawning chum and pink salmon. Many of the  salmon were holding in the shallow water, defending their redds, and jostling for position on the riffles in the lower river. Many white and mouldy carcasses were already  strewn along the estuary bank too, graphically showing the completion of the nutrient-loading salmon life cycle’s contribution to the coastal ecosystem.

Spawning salmon in the Great Bear Rainforest. Photo (c) Brandon Harvey, from a Maple Leaf trip.

We could see where bears had recently dug up roots of the meadow plants, some already starting to turn orange in fall colours.

We saw another bear by itself, up to its shoulders in the river and feeling around underwater to catch fish going by. Amazing technique!

Our Journey North from Cape Caution

In the past few days of our trip we have traveled from the north end of Nigei Island, round Cape Caution, and into the fjords of Dean Channel. Once round Cape Caution we were all happy to find the waters and weather calm enough to permit an easy beach landing on the arching brown sand of the bay we anchored in.

We saw several gray whales along the shore nearby and then amazingly saw a group of about half a dozen sea otters floating on the calm waters south of Calvert Island. When we checked the chart, we saw that they were near a shallow, rocky reef filled area called ‘Sea Otter Group’. How appropriate!

North of our anchorage the next day, we saw many humpbacks spouting and surfacing in Fitzhugh Sound. Some in the distance were even breeching. Waters again were calm so it was easy to spot the mists of their giant breaths at the surface.

Captain James saw a small group a ways ahead of us and after we watched tails disappear signaling they’d done a deep dive, we shut down to drift and watch where they might come up next. We were all on deck and chatting over our morning coffee break and suddenly! a huge exhale off our starboard…then another! then another! Three humpbacks had come over to  check us out! They were each within touching range of each other, surfacing and diving in formation and they circled us and left us all a-mist in their pungent breaths. We certainly had the feeling that they were watching us (and loving Maple Leaf’s beautiful lines) just as much as we were appreciating them.

Ahhhh, Hot Springs

Mmmmmm, natural hot springs, surrounded by mountains, meadow and beach. Photo by Mark Sissons, from a Maple Leaf trip.

We spent that night at anchor next to  fabulous hot springs were we all had a hot hot soak in the boulder and cemented pools there. The pipes from the spring were rigged to fill the extra soaker bathtub too but the water was *too hot* to get into until it had been cooled with several buckets full from the main pool. Ultimately we could all take turns having the best bucket showers ever to soap down and wash our hair before headed back to the mother ship.

Listening to the Rainforest

A study in textures - granite, fir, and fog. Photo by Brandon Harvey on a Maple Leaf Great Bear Rainforest trip.

We saw a mum black bear and two small cubs before breakfast.

We spent much of the morning before traveling into Fjordland,  investigating small stream estuaries and just listening and watching quietly from the inflatables. A real treat to have the time to soak up the atmosphere. So still and quiet we could just hear ourselves holding our own breaths, morning mist dripping off the trees hanging over the water, kingfishers chattering from the branch over our heads.

The magnificent raincoast at its best.

– update from naturalist Mary Morris, in the Maple Leaf‘s wheelhouse