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Monday, 11 August 2014

Bear and Ranger Meetings

Plumose Nemone
On August 9 after two dives in Katmai National Park we moved the boat to the prime bear-viewing area … a site we'd visited with much success in 2003. August 10 was going to be 'Bear Day' … but domestic priorities intervened. Printing our dive logs and making a soup seemed more important to me and Larry cleaned and put away dive gear.

Oregon Triton with eggs
At intervals, we'd take up our binoculars and focus on the bear antics ashore. Bears seemed to be wrestling each other, splashing around in the water, chasing sea gulls, possibly catching unwary fish. Bears seemed to be digging things up and eating kelp. They were certainly unaware of the charter vessel (with 2 Guides and 6-8 passengers) about 150 feet distant and aiming enormous cannon-sized cameras at them.

However, we had a quiet confidence going here on Traversay III. We were going to eat a good lunch, dress warmly, and zoom over to within 200 feet with OUR cameras once the other visitors had departed.
We finished our work and went about the rather arduous process of getting the dinghy and motor out of the forward hold. Because of our propensity for long offshore trips in high latitudes, we keep them safely stowed. Setting them up involves a well-rehearsed and choreographed set of activities. Heavy lifting is with ropes and winches. Air into the dinghy is by means of reversing the Shop-Vac air flow. The dinghy and attached motor is then winched high up over the lifelines and carefully set in the water.
As we stood surveying the dinghy in the water we were a little saddened because while we were now the ONLY boat in the anchorage, along with the other people, the bears had also vanished. The lowest tide of the day had now passed us by. However, we took some comfort in the knowledge that when the slightly higher tide at 7pm rolled around, we would be READY! All that was needed was to hook up the fuel system and motor up near the bears.

That's when the motor refused to start and gave signs that it is dead beyond even the tender ministrations of talented mechanics. So we now have to replace the sonar transducer and the dinghy motor. Luckily, the next morning rolled around and we managed to take photos from the dinghy (Larry rowed) and from Traversay III.

And that's the source of this photo of the mother bear and cubs - they were among the 21 bears that we saw.

Mother and Cubs
We were surprised at the many changes in the Park since we were there in 2003. When we arrived, there were several helicopters buzzing around and we noticed a Ranger Hut. The rangers - Mary and Dan - came around just before our first dive. As we were having coffee we told them about our concern. Had our hull been damaged by the log we hit on our way to Katmai? We asked about changes in the Park. I learned that Katmai was designated as a National Park in 1980, there had been rangers there and the Amalik Bay hut was built in 1999. Dan and Mary were volunteers (based out of Washington State University in Pullman WA). We had not met the rangers or noticed the hut (tiny in the immense landscape) on our first visit.

We learned more about the bears. Mary and Dan had been visited (on the tiny porch of their hut) that morning by a mother and three cubs. Despite their rapping on the windows and making a lot of noise, the bears showed absolutely no awareness whatsoever. We had heard this about the penguins in Antarctica … after years of study by British observers in Port Lockroy, the many penguins have no interest in humans and ignore them as they go through their regular penguin activities.

Mary and Dan wanted to know about underwater life. They asked about some marine life they had spotted. We showed our dive logs of Alaska from the 2002 and 2003 visits and consulted 'Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest' (written by friends Andy Lamb and Bernard P. Hanby) to find that the invertebrates they wanted to know about were Plumose Anemones and Oregon Tritons.
Sunflower Star

The rangers and visitors had been finding stray sea star arms on the beach and had heard that a type of plague has been attacking stars. Was it true? They asked about clams - were their numbers reduced? We had heard this and the causes. The stars are affected by a type of virus and the sudden proliferation of the sea otters is wrecking havoc with the shellfish population. The natural predators of sea otters are seemingly only Cruiseships (who cannot even see them let alone steer to avoid them) and Man. Whales find them an unsatisfactory source of nourishment - that enormous fur coat surrounds a tiny amount of meat.
Sunflower  Star - one many color variants
We printed extra copies of our dive logs so Dan and Mary could see the healthy-looking sea stars for themselves. We saw many beautiful sunflower stars (photos will be published here in a few weeks). The Lamb/Hanby book states that this star "is the largest star on the planet and may have up to 26 arms bearing a grand total of 15,000 tube feet!" We've never personally counted more than 17 arms, but all those we saw had healthy looking arms and one was able to move off at a great rate of knots while we took the photo!

Yesterday we moved the boat across Shelikof Strait. We're now anchored near friends we met in Opua New Zealand - Nick and Jenny aboard Bosun Bird. It was a welcome treat after our various passages to have an excellent dinner and stimulating conversation aboard their boat last night.

At 8/11/2014 18:26 (utc) our position was 57°30.73'N 153°50.01'W

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