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Alaska Bear safari photographing the bears of Kodiak Island

Posted in: Alaska

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Alaska Bear safari photographing the bears of Kodiak Island

Wildlife photographers have been fascinated with the giant bears of Kodiak Island for generations. An abundance of food and genetic isolation from the other brown bears found in nearby Katmai national park, has produced gigantic brown bears which have no equal around the world. Sadly, some of these magnificent animals have become trophies for American and European hunters. However, the current bear population is a healthy 3500 individuals; which equates to about 0.7 bears to each square mile. No wonder bear viewing tours to Kodiak Island are so successful when it comes to finding these giants of Alaska and photographing them in their natural habitat.

How to plan your Alaska bear safari to Kodiak Island?

As you probably know from your own research, Alaska is a huge state with relatively few roads and it is common to ‘fly-in’ to locations; whether that be for watching bears catch salmon in a river, or to go fishing for those same fish! Most visitors to Alaska by air will first arrive into the state capital, Anchorage, before flying onto an onward base or town, where they will start their Alaska bear safari. In this case we need to take the regular Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage to Kodiak and overnight in one of the many mid-range hotels or B&B’s. One of our favourites is the Best Western and many of the local companies offering bear viewing to Kodiak Island will also organise a minibus pick up from your hotel.

Best time to visit Kodiak Island for bear viewing?

Many wildlife photographers are looking for the classic bears catching salmon photographs and with global weather patterns and salmon farms affecting the size and timing of some of the Pacific salmon returns, it is becoming more difficult to predict the best time to see bears fishing in Alaska. However, most Kodiak wildlife lodges would say from mid-July to the end of August will coincide with the peak runs for Pink Salmon and Sockeye and this would be a great time to organise your Kodiak bear viewing. However, if you want to avoid the crowds you could come earlier in the season and capture some wonderful bear images. May to June is fantastic for bears clamming or feeding on the abundance of sedge grasses. It can also be a great time to photograph brown bears and cubs; as unlike the prime fishing spots which can be dominated by testosterone charged male bears, the open meadows provide sanctuary for bear families; who can easily see potential threats approaching.

What do bring on your Kodiak bear viewing tour?

You will be thoroughly briefed by the local operator about weight limits and what you are permitted to take with you on the tour. If it is a relatively short tour, you will probably only need to take water, as obviously food items need to be very carefully managed in bear country. You will be asked for your personal weight and advised about what is sensible to carry. Normally this would be a camera pack, which does not take up too much space in the bush plane. Think about your comfort when selecting your clothes for the excursion, as weather conditions in Alaska can change rapidly and you will be out in the open when photographing the bears of Kodiak Island.

How to be safe around bears on Kodiak Island

The most important decision you can make when it comes to bear safety in Alaska is to choose a properly licensed, ethical and customer focused local bear viewing company. Alaskan’s who have grown up with bears their entire live – in my experience – make the best bear guides. Generally, Kodiak bear viewing is a very different experience from a more controlled environment like Brooks Falls; where you have the specific board walks and park rangers everywhere you look. On Kodiak Island it is about small group observation on the bears in the company of an expert local bear guide. You literally are ‘walking with bears’ and seeing them on their terms in their environment. It is incredibly rare for brown bears to attack humans and that is even more so, when they are in a group. Often the guide will only carry bear spray and rely on his voice and confidence to ‘push away’ over curious bears; this often can be younger bears. It is amazing how focused the bears will be on feeding on their food source – whether that be clams, sedge grass or salmon – providing some superb photographic opportunities.

How to book your Kodiak Bear viewing tour?

We have more than 10 years of organising bespoke and tailor-made Alaskan bear safaris and often included bear viewing to both Kodiak Island and Katmai national park. Check out our amazing 10-day Kodiak and Katmai bear safari. We can also book multiple bear viewing tours to Kodiak Island from Kodiak or reserve an amazing Alaska wildlife lodge on Kodiak Island itself.

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