Into the Wild – Bear Watching in Tofino

Posted by on June 11, 2015

bear watching in tofino

It was early and just like a heavy blankets, thick layers of fog were still covering the rugged coastline as we set off for an adventure. An adventure into the wilderness of the Canadian Westcoast. My friends Alex and Steve from Los Angeles had come for a visit and together we were on a quest to see some of the region’s true locals, the coastal Black Bears. After a quick breakfast with coffee and donuts, it was time to head down to Meares Landing, our departure point and headquarters of tour company Remote Passages. What started with rather little expectations, turned out to be a fascinating trip into the wild.

 

Getting ready for adventure

The whole Meares Landing compound conveyed a sense of adventure and we were excited like little kids as we walked down the creaky boardwalk to receive our briefing for the day. Getting familiar with the area and learning about what to expect on this trip was one thing. Suiting up properly was another. We were given thick and bright red overalls which were supposed to shield us from the cold on the open water but also served as full body life jackets. All wrapped up, I had a last glance at the office map and the indicated sightings of the last few days looked promising. With high hopes for spotting black bears and other wildlife, we walked to the jetty and our racy Zodiac motor boat. It was time.

Meares Landing - where adventure begins.

Meares Landing – where adventure begins.

Remote Passages Tofino

Remote Passages in Tofino.

Map Claoquot Sound

A last look at the map. Looks promising…let’s go

Marine excursion Tofino

Getting ready for embarking into the wild.

 

Bald head eagles and our first bear

“Dress warm! On the water it will be 10 degrees colder than on land”. This warning by the tour staff rang in my head as we embarked into the waters of the inlet. And yes, it was chilly but our fluffy red overalls did what they were supposed to. As the Zodiac plowed through the coastal waters, we suddenly had the first wildlife encounter of the day. A majestic bald head eagle was sitting on top of a waterway signpost. Watching us closely, the king of the air kept its confident posture as we approached calmly and slowly. Towering above his territory, the rugged coastline seemed to disappear under thick layers of grey fog, giving the whole scene a morbid but at the same time fascinating touch. My camera was clicking and I still wonder who was really watching whom at this point.

bald head eagle

A bald head eagle. Towering over his territory. Who is watching whom?

We continued our journey and after patrolling the coast for a bit, the moment was there. Our first black bear was in sight. Finally, this is what we came for, this is what we had hoped for and we had just started our journey. You could feel the excitement rising as we slowly chugged towards the coast. Everyone was quiet, holding their breath, and trying not to scare this beautiful creature off. But to the contrary, the bear was utterly relaxed; foraging for food as he calmly strolled along the rocks. At one point it looked straight at us, but since bears don’t have any natural predators coming from the sea, they don’t perceive boats as potential threat. We were able to get very close, which was amazing. His fur was shimmering in the pale sunlight and despite his great weight; his movement along the edgy rocks was smooth and steady. An absolutely fascinating animal.

Black bear Canada

Moving swiftly across the edgy rocks.

Black bear closeup

Looking at us without fear. Beauty.

 

Relaxation on seal rock

It was time to leave our furry friend behind to look for more wildlife. Everyone was relieved and happy because such an early sight apparently doesn’t happen too often. But it just got better and better. We made it to seal rock, a small exposed rock which the harbor seals have claimed as their very own sunbathing spot. That rock was crowded and as the sun came out, sending its warming rays onto the rock, we knew exactly why. It looked like the perfect place to spend the morning and warm up. About 30 seals were just lying around, enjoying the sun, sleeping or playing with each other. Others were floating in the water, their heads sticking out, patiently waiting for a good spot. Unfortunately they are apparently not the smartest animals out there. Our guide told us that once Orcas, the famous killer whales, arrive in that area and circle the rock, the seals get scared and dive into the water instead of staying put on the rock. Much to the joy of the Orcas.

Harbor Seals Tofino

Seal Rock – the place to be if you are a seal.

Harbor Seals Rock

Relaxing in the sunshine. Way to spend the morning. | Image by Alex Kostich

Lone seal

A lone harbor seal checking us out. | Image by Alex Kostich

Onward to find more bears, we came across a huge swarm of moon jellyfish. Nonpoisonous, these shimmering blue creatures form big packs in calm waters and just float along. So far science has not yet discovered the root of this behavior but it is sure an interesting sight.

Clayoquot

The calm waters of Clayoquot

Moonjelly

A swarm of shiny moon jellyfish.

 

Bears and more Bears

Back along the coastline, we got lucky once again and found more bears. The most surprising sight was two bears, peacefully strolling along the beach together. That is something rarely seen as bears are known to live solo most of the time. Only when mating, they allow another bear in their close vicinity. Approaching from afar and then seeing them from up close was quite a surprise.

Black bear couple

A couple from afar … let’s get closer…

Black bear couple

Still young and a bit thin. But they seem to get along well. | Image by Alex Kostich

During the course of the journey, we were able to spot a couple of more bears, all foraging along the coastline, looking for fresh crabs and mussels. Despite appearing a bit clumsy, they go about it with a high degree of dexterity. They flip over rocks with their paws, grab the tasty food hiding underneath, crack it open and munch on it vigorously. That’s their daily morning routine and apart from eating fresh sea food, you can find bears eating anything else as well. Berries, fruit, roots, meat and even grass. You could say their diet is a very balanced one.

Sniffing to check the surrounding for potential enemies. | Image by Alex Kostich

Sniffing to check the surrounding for potential enemies. | Image by Alex Kostich

Black Bear feeding

Flipping rocks in search of delicious crabs and mussles | Image by Alex Kostich

Another one spotted. | Image by Alex Kostich

Another one spotted. | Image by Alex Kostich

 

Returning to Tofino

Our trip into the wild slowly came to an end. Our guide and boat driver stepped on the gas and we made our way across the waters of the inlet. Half way there, we came across a patch of open mud flats which were exposed due to low tide. What we discovered was a the final highlight of our journey. A group of juvenile bald eagles, not yet featuring the animal’s distinctive white head and tail feathers, were testing each other’s strength. Fighting over a piece of fish, they were so engaged that they never took real notice of us. The wingspan of even the juveniles is very impressive and it really showed why they are the uncontested kings of the air.

Juvenile bald eagles

Juvenile eagles testing their strength. |Image by Alex Kostich

Bald eagles fighting

A juvenile challenging an adult. Fighting over their catch. | Image by Alex Kostich

eagle on wreck

Resting on an abondoned ship wreck. | Image by Alex Kostich

Riding in our zodiac vessel, the fresh wind in our faces and Tofino harbor in the distance, everyone was happy and content. Bear watching in Tofino was a great trip with an outcome beyond all of our expectations. As we anchored at the pier and everyone slowly disembarked, it was time for one last snapshot. Good times in the wild with good friends.

Zodiac Tofino

On the way back … Tofino harbor appearing in the distance.

Bear watching in Tofino

Last group shot…what an amazing trip.

3 hours on the water with only having had a donut and coffee makes hungry…really hungry. We definitely felt for those bears, waking up hungry with the urge of finding fresh seafood. Good thing we didn’t have to flip over rocks to find it. Our source and way to end the morning was Wildside Grill, a local institution for fresh seafood of all kinds. It was Fish Tacos and Salmon Burgers with fries for us and I am sure our new found black furred friends would have enjoyed that as well.

Wildside Grill Tofino

Some well deserved at chow at Wildside Grill.

 

Last thoughts

First of all it was great to finally meet Alex and Steve personally. I had featured Alex on the blog some time ago and we kept in touch ever since. Our trip into the wild made it a perfect weekend. We never expected to see so much wildlife in such a short amount of time.  And for me, coming from a country where bears have been extinct for decades already, this was a very special kind of experience. Getting back in touch with nature and seeing wildlife in their natural habitat is great and definitely puts some things back into perspective.

Join the ESCapology tribe

 

12 Responses to Into the Wild – Bear Watching in Tofino

  1. April Violet

    Love the photos especially of the moon jellyfish and bald eagles! The jellyfish i saw in Palawan was red and quite huge and was on the sand–almost stepped on it as I wasn’t paying attention (busy taking pics) And your friend kinda looks like CNN’s Anderson Cooper 😉 Can’t wait to explore BC :-)

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Yeah, the eagles were way cool. Jellyfish kinda scare me since my incident in Indonesia. Good thing these were not poisenous. Who is Anderson Cooper?

      • April Violet

        Oh no, you got stung…must have been pretty bad :-( That’s good the ones you saw weren’t poisonous –always thought they were. But I saw some type of documentary and learnt that not all are. The ones in the photo look pretty. AC is a fave American journalist of mine

        • Philipp Dukatz

          Yeah, it#s been bad.. you can read about it here on blog…. just search Bunaken. And yes, not all of the jellyfish are poisenous …… Have to look up AC hehe

          • April Violet

            Hi Phil, reading the description of your awful experience made me feel for you…sounds excruciating! It had me imagining if that happened to me but glad you made it through and to actually go swim at the Jellyfish lake (saw that blog too). Being in the healthcare field, I imagine diagnosing myself. Anyway, I was a bit surprised you didn’t know AC ;-)…thought you were kidding at first. He actually went to Tacloban City in PI and reported about the typhoon, the locals and criticized how the local government was too slow to help/respond. So do you agree he kinda looks like your friend hehe Cheers! …April–

          • Philipp Dukatz

            Yeah, I have to check Anderson Cooper. Really never heard of him…. the jellyfish incident was indeed bad, but yeah, I guess also a good story to tell now haha. I am definitely more aware now when in the water ….

          • April Violet

            Yes, sometimes bad experiences make great stories to share and can be memorable for sure :-) I had an experience swimming in Palawan where I felt stinging/zapping sensation in certain parts of the water and thankfully not to the extent you experienced 😉 …was told by our guide that they’re planktons. Check Anderson Cooper out some time –i think he’s pretty cool. Oh yeah, this blog had me checking out about bears (seen a couple before at Yosemite Park)…after all there is the Grizzly Bear on the Cali flag

  2. berns

    Great article, interesting:-Dthis could be good for Tofino tourism..naks!!btw Love the jellyfish pics they look like cells..hehe, Those bears live in the wild but theyre really cute..
    Its good that they get to maintain the natural habitat of the place. Hmm now I suddenly remembered into the wild movie..haha might watch it again hehe

    Good one again!
    Tc!
    Berns

    • Philipp Dukatz

      They are cute and pretty cool. I liked watching them and I would like to see more. The movie btw is very good..worth seeing for sure …

  3. kathy

    Hey Phil, the jellyfish looks surreal! And love the bears even if they’re not white! :) Were you allowed to go near them? And is the weather there always like kind of gloomy?
    More photos please! :) -kathy

    • Philipp Dukatz

      Hi Kathy, we were in a boat, so we could go knda near without putting ourselves in danger. That was very cool, indeed. The weather has been super sunny here since a week now, so not always like that hehe …. I wanted to kind of convey that special atmosphere through the images though ….

  4. dines jansen

    hey, PipZ! Another great adventure again! Good to read that you’re having some wonderful times there. And meeting and spending good times with your friends was no doubt exciting and memorable. Love the article, the title reminds me of the film and book Into the Wild…did you pay the copyright? 😉 it is really unforgettable when you come too close to creatures which we never imagined we’d see. Ate those the same eagles you mentioned on your first blog over Tofino?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *