Princess Royal Island

Princess Royal is home of the Spirit Bears, poster-child of the effort to protect this swath of rain forest.  A Spirit Bear is a white-coated black bear, like a polar bear not an albino.  The white coat appears in about 10% of the population around Princess Royal Island due to a recessive gene thought to be left over from the last ice age.  Thus the bears are rare and because of the island’s geography hard to catch a glimpse of.

We stopped at Klemtu to talk to Doug Neasloss, an established bear watching guide and photographer in the area.  You reach him by sending a message on the village party line VHF, an experience in itself, a constant chatter of short messages, a voice version of Twitter.  People don’t bother to use names or whole sentences most of the time since they know each other’s voices and message context.  Doug said we were too early in the season, before the salmon started running, so seeing a spirit bear on this trip was a long-shot.  He was kind enough point us to some places to try so off we went:  north past Boat Bluff to Split Head, then South to Meyers Passage.

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We anchored at Meyers Narrows overnight where Popcorn enjoyed a typical trip ashore for her constitutional (“you call this a beach?”) on a little island chosen to be unlikely bear turf.
We had anchored a couple hundred feet off this rocky beach behind the island where we watched a brown bear (called a grizzly in the inland west) working the beach for supper, turning over big rocks looking for shellfish.  From the sound as the rocks rolled, these were big rocks, but the bear moved them around like pebbles.  This show went on for about a half hour.

After stowing the camera, tripod and long-lens, and settling in for an evening cocktail in the cockpit, we saw what looked at first like a very large dog move out onto the beach.  It turned out to be our personal first sighting of a wolf in the wild: big, muscular shoulders, long bushy tail, dark brown almost black coat.  The wolf was browsing for food, but was only there for a few minutes before fading back into the brush, no time to get a photo unfortunately.  These coastal wolves are related to the inland timber wolves, but are sufficiently different that they may be getting a separate species name.  Their coat is dark not the light grey-tan of the inland wolves, they often hunt alone in addition to packs, and have a more varied diet including shellfish.

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