Grizzly Bear Viewing - Knight Inlet
Bear Watching Season
Starting in April, black and grizzly bears begin emerging from hibernation and head to Glendale Cove to feed on the succulent new spring growth. Glendale Cove is home to one of the largest concentrations of grizzly (brown) bears in British Columbia. Tours for Grizzlies start mid-May until end of September. Best time to see grizzly bears is June. At this time the berries are not yet ripe, and the bears are seeking for other food close to the water. They will collect eels, crabs, and isopods at the beach by rolling rocks.
Although August and September are mostly the months to see Grizzlies hunt for Salmon, it is not predictable. The salmon run, the time when the salmon will swim up the rivers and inlets to spawn, usually start after heavy rain falls. You need the luck to choose the right time for your trip. Planning a trip at this time requires pre-booking due to limited availability.
During our visit in early September 2017, not much Salmon had been seen compared to last year's early run in July. Peak season and tours should be booked in advance from mid-August to mid-September. It's a spectacle when the bears hunt the salmon, but this year they are feeding on a high protein grass. Grizzlies are hungry in the morning and come out of the higher vegetation to the shoreline. Therefore, the trip starts before 7:00 am because the travel time from Telegraph Cove to Knight Inlet is about 2 hours. In September the start time for the trip needs to be synchronized with the tides.
The summer climate at Telegraph Cove and the Johnstone Strait is characterized by still, cool mornings with not much wind and usually some fog. As the day progresses the fog lifts, sometimes slowly and shows the spectacular views to the area. In the late afternoon, winds can fresh up but drop for early evening to yield marvelous sunsets. In summer storms with rain are not very common, but it can occur when the wind changes to the South East. Usually, the wind blows from the North West. From July to August the precipitation is low compared to October until January, but you will always get some days with rainfall each month throughout the year.
This day trip is an affordable alternative in comparison to the popular Knights Inlet Lodge. The tour usually starts at 6:45 am, but sometimes one of the boat needs to pick up other guests from other locations before. As usual, this morning was foggy at Telegraph Cove, but our skipper was very experienced and navigated the boat for 2 hours only via GPS and echo lot. Unfortunately, we couldn't see anything during this time outside but Matt, our tour guide used the time to explain more details about the tour and the Grizzlies. For breakfast coffee, tea, fruits yogurts, and, muffins are served. Although the boat is not very big, it has a washroom/toilet. After traveling around 2 hours, the boat will reach Glendale Cove. Here you will change the boat from the aluminum water taxi to a custom-made viewing skiff. These large flat bottom viewing skiffs are former herring fishing boats modified for wildlife viewing in shallow estuaries. The skipper will use first the outboard engine to reach the shallow water; then the boat will be pushed and pulled by the guide and the skipper by walking through the water close to the shoreline. This gives an excellent view to the Grizzlies grazing the high protein food.
What to wear and bring
For the water taxi, you don't need too many warm clothes as you can sit inside and it even has a heater. But if you like to enjoy the whole surroundings you should stay outside on the back of the boat. This requires some warm and windproof jackets as it becomes very windy and cold even if it's sunny. For the skiff, you definitely need some extra layers especially if you stand up on the top. Wearing not too prominent colors are recommended. Additionally, don’t use any perfumes or aftershave in the morning, the bears have an extreme sense of smelling and they shouldn't get in contact with any nonnatural or human odor. Due to the same reason, it is not allowed to take any food to the skiff. Although you should bring your camera with some good zoom lenses, Binoculars are provided on the boat to spot the bears from a distance.
Facts about Grizzlies
Grizzlies living on the coast are typically larger in size and heavier compared to the Grizzlies living inland due the to the richness of food available. The average weight of a coastal male can reach up to 400 kg compared to inland bears with 180-360 kg. In September 2017 the Salmon had not arrived in Glendale Gove. Although the bears find other sources to fill up their weight for hibernation, it can have severe consequences. We spotted one female bear with two one-year-old cups. The cubs are fed entirely on their mother's milk during hibernation. Therefore, she needs to gain enough weight to survive and allow her cups to experience the next summer. Our crew feared that due to the missing or late salmon she and the cups might not survive this winter. On average only half of the one-year-old cups will not survive the winter which has an impact on the bear population. Female bears will not reproduce for three or more years if the young die or get killed.
For good pictures bring a camera with at least 300 mm or equivalent telephoto lens as Provincial Wildlife Branch Bear Viewing Guidelines require that the boat stays from the bears 50 meters away.
Another activity which is highly recommended is kayaking with killer whales and other wildlife.