It’s time for a mid-summer report from Munsey’s Bear Camp. We’ve had great guests so far this season from France, Austria, Germany, Israel, and of course the U.S. Our guests this summer are beginning to refer to us as “Munsey’s Bear and Whale Camp”. Each summer I hope all our guests will have the opportunity to see whales, and I expect a few great whale encounters, but this summer has been exceptional. We’ve seen either fin or humpback whales (or both) nearly every day this season. One afternoon, our guests yelled in delight as a humpback breached in front of our boat, and on another day, two fin whales swam up to us as we sat on our boat with the engines off. They tightly circled us and then dove under the boat. Without a doubt, though, our most sensational whale experience this summer occurred a few days a go when we sat in the middle of Uyak Bay on a calm, drizzly afternoon and watched approximately one-hundred whales – mostly fin and a few humpbacks – spread around the bay feeding. Whales were spouting and rolling in every direction as far as we could see, the chorus of their exhalations the only sounds we could hear on that quiet day. Several whales passed right by our boat, the seventy-foot giants making us feel insignificant. At first the cameras whirred, but as time passed, I noticed our guests taking fewer and fewer photos and instead just watching the magnificent spectacle. Photos are great, but no photo could come close to capturing that experience. I don’t think any of us stopped smiling during the two hours we spent with the whales.
On a more serious and nearly tragic note, one humpback whale became entangled in a crab pot line last week. Friends called to ask for our help, and we rushed to the site. The poor whale had the crab pot line wrapped around his tail and was dragging the heavy pot and the buoy. The whale was struggling to move and quickly becoming exhausted. Disentangling a whale is not only difficult, but it’s a bad idea unless you’ve had some training and experience. We wanted to help, but a forty-ton, stressed animal can be very dangerous and cause a lot of damage. When we left the whale, he was swimming better but was still wrapped in the line and dragging the pot. When we arrived home that evening, we were surprised to see the whale had followed us (a distance of three miles) and was right outside our lodge. We watched him all evening, and at 10:00 p.m., Mike noticed he was free from the buoy. A short while later, the whale began repeatedly lifting his tail fluke in the air and then swam away. We aren’t sure if he swam into shallower water to make freeing himself from the crab pot line easier, or if it was just luck that he disentangled himself. In any case, it was a great outcome and a reminder of how dangerous human debris and fishing gear can be to aquatic creatures.
Now to quickly report all our other activities this summer. The salmon are again slow to arrive at the head of Uyak bay this year, and they are just beginning to move up the streams at the head of the bay. Bears are still actively catching salmon and feeding at low tide on the tidal flats in salt water, and the bear viewing has been very good there. We’ve also seen lots of sea otters and of course seals, deer, foxes, eagles, and puffins. The salmon are in Brown’s Lagoon now, and the salmon fishing there has been excellent. Halibut fishing has been below average, but we’ve only had two groups so far interested in fishing, so I suspect halibut fishing will improve in mid to late August when we devote more time to the cause.
I wish I could say our summer has been dry and sunny, but it hasn’t. Still, I’ve heard few complaints, and as one guest told me, “If the bears don’t mind a little rain, then I don’t mind.” As always, each day this summer has been a great adventure. I’ll file a more-detailed report at the end of our summer season.