Bears, Up Close and Personal, in the Alaskan Wilderness- page 2 | Science | Smithsonian
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(© Elaine Glusac)

Bears, Up Close and Personal, in the Alaskan Wilderness

A newly built retreat gives visitors a chance to see the Kodiaks in their element

smithsonian.com

(Continued from page 1)

 Like the best fishermen, bears are patient anglers, slowly padding out to the shallow center of the river and facing downstream, looking for salmon swimming up. When a bear makes a move, however, it is fast, lumbering up to 35 miles per hour before pouncing. Our group watched as one active sow pulled a ten-pound pink salmon from the Thumb River and dragged it onshore, devouring it in a crunch of bones in mere minutes, leaving the tail for the whining cub behind her. Bears are omnivores, and another sow treated the wild grasses on the opposite riverbank like a salad bar, grazing as she walked.

"It's almost like they smell in vivid color," says Katelnikoff, who looks like an outdoorsy version of a Secret Service agent, sidearm at the ready, radio wire in his ear. "If our sense of smell is the equivalent of a postage stamp, a dog's is an 8-by-11 sheet of paper and a bear's is a newspaper."

 Though they clearly smell us nearby, the bears largely ignore us in their single-minded search for salmon, treating us to the intimacies of their lives often as close as 15 feet away. One sleepy bear rolls over on a grassy bluff and allows her cub to nurse during their afternoon siesta. Another, after resting, engages in "snorkeling," sitting in a deeper part of the river and putting her head below water to look for fish. When none pass, she grooms herself, scratching with a comb of straight claws as long as fingers.

By midday, all four visible bears have chosen resting spots on the riverbanks, cuing our still cautious but ultimately drama-free departure for lunch. "It's not the bears I see that I worry about," says Katelnikoff, laying his rifle in the bottom of the boat. "It's those I don't."

Info: Kodiak Brown Bear Center, 4-day stay $3,499 per person, double occupancy, 877-335-2327, kodiakbrownbearcenter.com

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About Elaine Glusac

Chicago-based freelancer Elaine Glusac writes about travel, food and culture for many publications including the New York Times, National Geographic Traveler and USAToday.com.

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