Another great grizzly research season in Heiltsuk Territory

This year we had the fortune and privilege of reuniting with some dear old friends!  We were visiting an estuary, 60 km from our base near Waglisla (Bella Bella), where the Raincoast team had watched a momma grizzly and three cubs grow up through the years

(see and for previous stories about this family) .  This family had, in a sense, become our mascots.

Much like our own project, they had spent the last 3 years ‘learning the ropes’, and our cherished encounters with this growing family provided a great reminder of what motivates our work. After this year’s first two visits to the estuary we were somewhat saddened that we hadn’t seen any sign of the family.  On our final visit we slowly idled our boat through the early-morning calm of the estuary’s waters hoping beyond hope that we would finally see them again.

After carefully scanning the sea of sedge at the water’s edge we were on the brink of giving up when Harvey quietly exclaimed, ‘Over there!  Grizzly!’   Off in the distance was a young male standing on his hind legs sussing us out.  From the narrow face, the general size, and the location we realized this was one of the cubs we’d been watching in years past.  After a few minutes, a second young grizzly emerged, timidly observing our first ursine friend.  After being bluff charged by her sibling, this new actor backed to a safe distance and started feeding on a different patch of sedges.  Minutes later, a third sibling emerged, but did not attempt approaching the obviously dominant young man.  While momma had gone on to greener pastures, the years preparing her young family for life in the beautiful but dangerous coastal world had paid off.  Much had changed in the lives of these young ones, but they were doing just great!

Much like our grizzly mascots, our own team went through some considerable changes this year.    Due to an avalanche of other responsibilities, Chris Darimont had to watch our project largely from afar, much as I imagined the 3 young bears’ momma on a distant hillside keeping a vigilant watch over her newly-fledged offspring.  Additionally, three of our valued team members, Doug, Christina, and Heather, had moved on to pursue new goals and challenges.  Harvey Brown, Howard Humchitt, and I returned, along with three new members, Ian C. Reid, Megan Adams, and Hannah Kobluk.  Despite the very large shoes left to fill by our recently-departed team mates (figuratively, of course – Christina, for one, has tiny feet), our new team flourished!

20012 Field Team (photo by Chris Darimont)

The team’s success was due in part to Chris’s hard work in preparing both the season and his team, and in equal part due to the amazing characters that comprised the team.  Ian C. Reid is a towering, hard-working young man with a gentle soul who was able to make the entire team laugh to the point of chest stitches whenever he so desired.   Megan Adams, a new grad student of Chris’s, is a bright young woman with years of experience in the coastal environment who immediately took to the area and whose passion for learning shone through in her every move, motivating both learning and teaching for all.  Hannah Kobluk, our rock-star volunteer, is another bright young woman who fit immediately in to the team and community and who brought a stellar work ethic and a sense of fun and excitement that brightened not only her own experience but that of the team as a whole.  This year Harvey Brown once again brought his invaluable encyclopedic knowledge of the area, and, equally importantly, his indefatigable smile.  Don brought his beloved helicopter ‘Gizmo’, his charming love of puns, and his characteristic warm company.  Finally, Howard Humchitt, a truly hardened Raincoast veteran, kept us enlightened by his bounty of stories and wisdom and kept us safe thanks to his deep knowledge of the area’s waters.

Ian making us laugh
Megan taking a well-deserved break at one of our sites
Hannah, hard at work
Don, Hannah, and Gizmo (the helicopter) in the field
Harvey with some expertly-harvested gull eggs
Howard driving (with Megan in the co-pilot's chair)

As we prepare for the long journey home we can all be grateful not only for the safe season and for the hundreds of bear hair samples we collected, but also for this year’s wonderful team that has done the seemingly impossible in maintaining the caliber of excellence set by the wonderful teams of years past.

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Raincoast’s in-house scientists, collaborating graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and professors make us unique among conservation groups. We work with First Nations, academic institutions, government, and other NGOs to build support and inform decisions that protect aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and the wildlife that depend on them. We conduct ethically applied, process-oriented, and hypothesis-driven research that has immediate and relevant utility for conservation deliberations and the collective body of scientific knowledge.

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Coastal wolf with a salmon in its month.
Photo by Dene Rossouw.