Friday, October 23, 2015

A BEAR IN MIND

 Waverly Traylor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Public domain image.

Why wilderness? Because we like the taste of freedom; because we like the smell of danger.Edward Abbey

We've all seen the video: "Get away from my kayak." "Come here!" "Stop it bear! Bear! Bear! Bear! Mary Maley's clip on YouTube  has racked up more than 4 millions hits of her yelling at a curious black bear ripping up her kayak during a trip into Alaska. When the bear persisted in attacking her kayak she screeched "Go away. Get away from the kayak. Get away from the kayak. Come here. Why are you breaking my kayak?”

Because the bear decided only to rip up Mary's kayak and not Mary, most of us found the video somewhat humorous as human tries to exert her power over nature by trying to reason with the wild creature. "That is one of the funniest things I have ever seen." said Current Adventures Kayak School and Trips,  Dan Crandall, "All I can say is that in bear country it is common knowledge in places like Alaska where I lived that bears like to chew on rubber and plastic, so you don't leave it where they can easily get at it.  They are also known to have a wicked sense of humor and fair play. He knew the kayak was important to her when she thanked him for not chewing on it, but then she pepper sprayed him. He simply knew how to get back at her in the most effective way.

While laughing at the bear video, we held our breath while watching the clip of the two Brits narrowly escaping death and injury when a 40-ton humpback whale crash-landed on their kayak while paddling off Monterey Bay in California. "It was above us and all I could see was this whale crashing towards us, blocking out the light." Tom Mustill. told the Telegraph, "I thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to die now. " The terrifying incident was captured on video by a passenger on a nearby whale-watching boat. Mustill and Charlotte Kinloch were breached and dragged underwater by the force of the whale. “I remember coming to the surface and thinking, ‘How am I not dead? Maybe I’ve got lots of injuries but I’m in shock and can’t feel them,’” he recalled. “Then I saw Charlotte and thought, ‘How is she not dead?'"

Remarkably, the two were left uninjured and the only damage was a small dent in the bow of the kayak. "I'm actually quite surprised there aren't more accidents," said San Francisco based wildlife photographer, explorer, and founder of The Wild Image Project Daniel Fox, "Considering the increase of tourists and the increased pressure the animals and the audacity that the tourists are showing. It's pushing them (the whales) to their limits. More and more there is a concept that nature is cute. All the animals are cute. Let's get close to the animals. Let's go and pet lions, lets go and pet bears. Wild animals are wild animals. We have to respect and honor who that are. When we go and enter their territory we have to understand their primal ways."

Fox makes a good point. However, with regulated hunting and people living in or much closer to bear habitat, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, people are going to be encountering bears more and more. In most cases, the bears quickly vanish into the woods after being seen or scared off. In August however, a grizzly bear killed a hiker in Yellowstone National Park, tragic yet extremely rare experts say. According to the National Park Service, the chances of being injured by a bear are approximately 1 in 2.1 million. So in other words you are much more likely to killed by a bee's sting than a bear's bite. "On a couple of occasions when bears were showing significant interest in trying to scare the crap out of me," said Crandall, "I have had success throwing rocks at them and getting them to stand off, stop there rapid advance or retreat. I have not had success yelling at them and certainly not pleading with them."

Fox agrees, "You have to respect predators. You have to give them space. You have to understand the way they communicate is primal. They feed off your body language and the intonation and the vibration within your voice. She talked to the bear in that really high pitched annoying voice. There was no power in it. There was absolutely nothing. She was totally conflicted. Her voice was full of fear and sadness. She was telling the bear come here, no go there.  Plus on top of that (laughing) she had the guts to just keep filming when all this is going on."

With all my experience in the wild,  I have never seen a bear, mountain lion or shark in the wild. For me those are rare experiences. I have stared down a few raccoons a time or two. One after he grabbed a full bag of marshmallows and climbed the tree above our campfire and proceeded to eat them in front of us. Amusing for us, but survival for our little wild friend. "No predator will attack unless the risks are worth it," said Fox, "So either for food, either for protecting your cubs, or either for protecting your territory. When it comes to the woman, she was absolutely stupid in the way she handled the situation, she is lucky to be alive and that bear didn't go after her. The wilderness is not a funny place. It's a struggle."

Nature is both beautiful and brutal. In both videos, I found the humans shared the same good fortune. Fortunate to experience a close up view of something wild and lucky enough to live to tell about it.