March 2012 Update

     Thanks for your comments and thank you, Ryan, for your technical brilliance.  Mike and I just returned from a vacation in Hawaii.  It has been a brutal winter in Alaska, so warm, tropical breezes were a nice change of pace.  Our Hawaii trip was primarily a family reunion with Mike’s family, but we did manage to do some kayaking and snorkeling, including a night snorkel with manta rays that was very exciting.  We booked two guided trips, which is something we always try to do when we travel.  Not only is it nice to sit back, relax, and let someone else worry about the details, but it is also good for us to be the clients for a change.  It makes us realize how we want to be treated and helps us think of better ways to take care of our own guests.  One thing very different about the multi-day trips we offer and the multi-hour tours we usually take on our vacation is that we have the opportunity to get to know our guests well.  By the end of a six-hour trip, most guides are struggling to remember the names of their clients, but by the end of a five-day trip, we not only know our guests’ names, but we also know the names of their children and pets.  I hope this makes the experience more special for our guests, and I’m certain it makes our jobs much more enjoyable.  I would have burned out long ago if I had to guide a different group of clients every day, but our guests become our friends, and we share their adventures.

     We may not have tropical breezes here on Kodiak, but the rugged wilderness of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (KNWR) offers an experience I have found nowhere else in my travels.  Watching huge, graceful manta rays feed at night off the Kona coast in Hawaii was a thrill, but there were at least one hundred other people in the water sharing the experience with us. Our adventures on the KNWR are limited to six guests, and we rarely even see other people during a trip.  We don’t bring the bears to us; we visit their home, watch them for a few hours, and then leave, trying to disturb them as little as possible.

     It’s 14° and snowing here today.  I can’t step outdoors without being blasted by wind and snow, but still, as I write my portion of a talk Mike and I are scheduled to give in two weeks at Kodiak Brown Bear Days, a week-long event hosted by the KNWR, I am reminded how lucky we are to live on Kodiak Island and work on the KNWR.  Our talk is about ethical and safe bear viewing practices, and I plan to remind the audience that biologists and wildlife managers from around the world travel to Kodiak to study how the wildlife and the habitat is managed here.  The KNWR (in conjunction with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game) is considered one of the best models of wildlife management in the world.

     This is the first year for the Kodiak Brown Bear Days celebration, and I hope the citizens of Kodiak get involved in the activities.  I am most excited about the keynote speaker, Dr. Sandra L. Talbot, who will talk about her research on the genetic characterization of brown bears of the Kodiak archipelago.  The Kodiak Unified Bear Subcommittee (KUBS) bear-viewing guide course is also scheduled during the same week as the Kodiak Brown Bear Days celebration.  This is a course taught through the KodiakCommunity Collegeby local guides, biologists, and other experts to educate and train bear-viewing guides working on Kodiak.  I teach a section of the class on taking care of clients.  My section encompasses everything from ethics in advertising to accurately explaining the experience of bear viewing with your operation to perspective clients to safety and emergency gear to taking care of clients in the field.  Mike teaches a section on safe, ethical bear viewing.  He discusses how to safely lead clients into bear country and successfully show them bears while minimizing the impact on the bears and their environment.  We are very excited this year that Dr. Talbot as agreed to present an in-depth analysis of her Kodiak bear genetics study during our class.  I’ll be sure to report what I learn.