29th’ June 2020 – Jules Tileston – “Up Close and personal with Bears”

Making the world even smaller we were able to continue our club activities by enjoying a presentation direct from Anchorage, Alaska. Our speaker, Jules, has lived and worked there for many years and has a fundamental love of this huge 49th state of the US. Because of its geographical range, from spruce forest in the South, to Arctic in the North. The corresponding animal habits make it essential that accurate planning is required to be in the right place at the right time.

We find that there are three types of Bear in Alaska, Black, Brown (this includes the sub species of the Kodiak bear and the iconic Polar Bear. Since wildlife’s movements depend upon the availability of food, and this can be abundant, Jules’ photographic journeys coincided with each type in order to photograph them in complete safety – an essential lesson to learn, who knew that parties are required to whistle, sing, talk and clatter rocks together to let the bears know of their presence! The Black Bears were observed at Prince William Sound; Brown Bears from Denali & Katmai National Parks and Polar Bears from Kaktovic on the shore of the Beaufort Sea. Photographic equipment is Canon 7D Tamron 150 – 600mm lens (mostly hand held).

It became apparent that travel arrangements need precise planning as there is use of buses, light aircraft and a range of boating, all forms being tried and tested with risk assessments carried out with great care. The resultant images were a delight and gave us a real feel for both the scale of this magnificent country, the intense cold and the well developed senses that all of the Bears had developed in order to survive (though the Polar Bear is considered to be at the greatest risk due to the melting ice cap). Interestingly we saw interaction, motivated by food, between a Brown Bear and a small wolf pack who had hunted a Caribou – the result going to the Bear despite much “dancing” by the pack.

Brown Bear w/Red Salmon

Jules’ knowledge also spread to the geology of the area, in the last 40 years the Augustin Volcano has erupted 3 times and the Bruin Bay fault has caused the West shore of Cook Inlet to physically uplift by 14 metres. Other notable geographic features have been well documented in this region.
The Bears are omnivorous and photographs were shown of parents, mainly female, with cubs eating grass and vegetation, Salmon as a huge source of protein and, in the Autumn, berries an inspection of their claws reveals exactly how they are feeding at any particular time. The interactions between Bears of different species were well observed and as the Sea ice recedes it is inevitable that inter breeding between Brown and White will become more prevalent. The Bowhead Whale is still hunted extensively in the region and bone and flesh piles are “protected” on land by barbed wire and the resultant DNA samples found amongst these dumps give useful information regarding Bear movements and habits – Whale carcases are also returned to the sea. Some radio collars are attached to females to learn about movements, this practice cannot be carried out on the males due to their different “cone shaped” physiology.

Following this amazing study of Bears it may well be that some members will be tempted to visit this part of the world and Jules’ tips make it even more important to take the advice of experts who know the terrain intimately. A most informative, stimulating and thought provoking evening and our thanks to Jules were justifiably earned.
If you wish to see more then visit the Internet and see the huge contribution that Jules Tileston has made to wildlife in Alaska since moving to live there in 1972.

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