Watch Out for Bears!
Location: Russkia Bay, Russia
by Wayne Brown
Clipper Odyssey has left Petropavlosk and we are traveling south along the Pacific coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula toward the Kuril Islands. We are about 40 miles (64 kilometers) south of Petropavlosk. We are slowly cruising into Russkia Bay. Russkia Bay is the largest fjord in Kamchatka Peninsula. A fjord
(FEE-ord) is a long, narrow inlet of the ocean between high cliffs. Fjords are usually formed by glaciers that have cut deep gouges in the land. After the glacier melts the sea fills the cut.
Russkia Bay is about 3/4 mile (1.2 kilometers) wide and the water is over 100 feet (30 meters) deep, so Odyssey can easily travel deep into the fjord. As we travel into the fjord I see the steep, tall granite cliffs towering over the ship on both sides of us. The cliffs most be over 1,000 feet (300 meters) high! I can see scars on the cliffs made by the huge glacier that dug out this fjord thousands of years ago. The cliffs are mostly covered with green plants like grasses and other short leafy plants. A couple small waterfalls spill over the cliffs into the sea.
As Odyssey continues moving deeper into the fjord I see the end of the fjord ahead. This fjord is over 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) long! On the south side of the fjord I can see a valley with a small river running through it. There are a few buildings at the mouth of the river. A fishing boat is anchored just in front of the river. Sergey tells us that this is a fishing camp. During the summer Russian fisherman stay there to fish for salmon in the river. In the summer salmon swim from the sea up the river to lay their eggs. After they lay their eggs they swim back to the sea where they die. Fishermen catch the salmon on the mouth of the river. The fishermen know that salmon swimming up stream are filled with eggs. Russians love to eat fish eggs. They call them "caviar". The fishermen can make lots of money selling the salmon and their eggs.
Near the end of the fjord we stop because it is getting shallow. Our captain anchors the ship and the crew puts our Zodiac inflatable boats in the water. We are using the Zodiac inflatable boats to go ashore for some exploring. I am on the first Zodiac with Sergey and expedition leader, Susan Adie, and her husband, Brad. We look for places that we can safely get ashore. Along sides of the fjord, at the bottom of the cliffs, we get into a thick forest of seaweed floating on the surface. This seaweed is a kelp called alaria. The propeller of our boat gets clogged with kelp and we have to keep lifting out the propeller to pull off the kelp wrapped around it. We decide this will not be a good place to go ashore, so we move out away from the sides of the fjord. About 1/4 mile (440 meters) ahead we see that the end of the fjord has a nice wide sandy beach with no kelp! We land our Zodiac on the beach and radio the ship to send the other Zodiacs here, too.
The beach we are standing on is a black sand beach. The black sand is made from ground up volcanic ash and rock. At one end of the beach is the wide mouth of a stream. The mouth of this stream is about 100 feet (30 meters) wide. As I walk along the edge of the stream I can see salmon swimming by, back out to sea, after laying their eggs. With my binoculars I look out across the valley on the other side of the stream. I am looking for a huge bird that only nests in the Kamchatka peninsula and a few other areas in Russia around the Sea of Okhotsk. The bird I am looking for is the Steller's sea eagle.
The Stelller's sea eagle is a one of the largest eagles in the world. It has a wingspan up to 22 feet (6.8 meters) and can weigh up to 20 pounds (9 kilograms). It's main diet is salmon. This should be a good place to find a Steller's sea eagle because it likes to sit at the top of a tall tree overlooking the mouth of a salmon stream. On the opposite bank I can see something sitting at the very top of a large tree. With my binoculars I see that it is a Steller's sea eagle! It is about 300 feet (100 meters) away and I want to get closer to get a picture. I am wearing rubber boots that come up just below my knees, but the stream looks higher than my boots. Carefully I walk across the stream and the water comes close, but not over the top of my boots. Now I can get close to the eagle! Uh-oh! I see I have company. There is another animal nearby that also likes to eat salmon. A big brown bear! I don't see the bear, but I do see fresh bear tracks along the edge of this side of the stream.
Russian brown bears love salmon. Fortunately brown bears rarely attack humans. When they do, it is often because of their poor eyesight which leads them to mistake a person for another bear or animal. He could attack me and these are big bears. The brown bear grows to over 7 1/2 feet (2.5 meters) tall and weighs up to 1,300 pounds (600 kilograms)! Normally they walk slowly on all fours. If the bear charges it can move very fast. A big brown bear can charge at about 30 miles per hour (50 kph) and I can't run that fast! I want to make sure I don't surpise the bear. If you make a lot of noise so the bear can hear you it will usually move away. As I walk toward the tree where the sea eagle is I talk really loud so any bears can hear me. I walk a little ways, stop and take a picture, walk a little ways and take a picture, talking loudly as I walk. Finally about 100 feet (30 meters) away the sea eagle takes off and flies away, but not before I got its picture!
I make it back to our landing spot without seeing any bears. (I would have liked to have seen a bear from a distance, though.) Back on the ship the captain orders the anchor to be hoisted up so we can continue on to the Kuril Islands.
I look forward to tomorrow when we start to explore the Kuril Islands.
"Dah svee-dahn-yah" (Good-bye)
Russkia Bay, Russia
Position: 52º 75' N / 157º 29' E
Midday Air Temp: 68ºF
Weather: light breeze, sunny with scattered clouds, and calm sea.
Water Temp: 43ºF
Russkia Bay is the largest fjord in the Kamchatka Peninsula. Russkia Bay is south of Petropavlosk. (Petropavlosk is in the top right of the picture.) (NASA photo)
The entrance to the Russkia Bay fjord is between tall granite cliffs. I can see scars on the cliff from the glacier that made the fjord.
Near the end of the fjord is a fishing camp and fishing boat at the mouth of a river.
Bear tracks! I found these big tracks on the beach made by a big Russian brown bear. I laid my binoculars next to them to show you how big they are.
A the top of a large tree I found a large adult Stellar sea eagle looking out over the stream for salmon to catch.