Anan Bear Observatory

This was a highly anticipated stop for us.  The Anan Bear and Wildlife Observatory is one of the few places where you can see both black and brown (grizzly) bears feeding on returning salmon in their natural environment.  Only 60 visitors are allowed a day during the high season of July and August. You can’t leave your boat unattended in Anan Bay so we took a high-speed tour boat to get there. The boat trip was led by two experienced guides who provided lots of wildlife knowledge and regional history and also protection (they were both armed with guns and bear spray) and guidance walking up the 1/2 mile path and boardwalk to the observation deck and blind.

The path we walked to get to the observatory is shared with the bears.
The bears are totally accustomed to the observatory. They walk up to, around and under it.

This is the time of year that salmon are returning to spawn in huge numbers. The bears get first pick, eating only the brains and the roe – the high fat content areas. Then eagles and other wildlife get the remains. We did notice it was getting a bit stinky from the accumulating remains. The guides said we were lucky to be there now and not in a few more weeks when it would really reek.

The dark mass of salmon waiting to push upstream.
Baby followed mom very closely.

When we first arrived there were at least 4 to 5 black bears feeding in the stream and walking around the observatory. Later we were very lucky that a brown bear, who the guides had named Scuba Sue for her atypical behavior of diving fully into the stream to catch fish, walked up the stream bed. The black bears scurried away in a hurry when they saw her – a good lesson in how fast bears can run uphill! They seemed to feel safe enough on the opposite bank of the stream, but clearly kept a close eye on her. She was incredibly efficient at catching fish, we watched her catch and eat at least a half dozen compared to the black bears who took much longer to catch one.

Scuba Sue preparing to dive into the water
Enjoying one of her many catches.
Waiting for his turn at the salmon.

The guides said no one had ever had to discharge a firearm against a bear in the history of Anan, which I think is a testament to the experience and the thought that goes into how visitors are brought into the area. They actually have more problems with people falling on the trail and boardwalk than anything else.

Pensive bear, after a good back scratch on the tree.

A wonderful way to spend one of our last days in Alaska.

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