For the better part of a week in the notoriously wet coast of Alaska, we had enjoyed cloudy but dry skies. All of our guides told us that we had really lucked out with the weather, which can throw a wrench in even the best laid plans. So, when we arrived in our final port of call, Ketchikan, I had a moment of dread when I saw that our luck had finally run out. It wasn’t really unexpected though as Ketchikan is one of the wettest places on earth with 150-200 inches of annual rainfall.
And in truth, wouldn’t you be a bit disappointed to visit one of the largest temperate rainforests in the world and NOT experience some rain. That’s what I told myself anyway. So, we disembarked from our ship and eagerly explored the bustling town with so many claims to fame. Ketchikan is Alaska’s first city, the totem pole capital of the world, and the salmon capital of the world. That last one is very important because where there are salmon, you will find BEARS. And bears is what we were looking for.
Ketchikan is located on Revillagigedo Island which boasts a population of nearly 15,000 black bears. That’s a ratio of 2 bears for every one human inhabitant. With stats like that, I was really liking our odds of getting up close and personal with our furry friends. To give us the best possible chance, we drove about 20 minutes outside the city to the 40 acre Alaskan Rainforest Sanctuary where our bear guide Zoe led us into the picturesque Herring Cove. They don’t guarantee you will see bears but we timed our visit at the end of the annual salmon run so our chances were pretty good. We certainly didn’t expect to spot our first bears within MINUTES of starting down the one-mile trail.
There was almost no point in our two hour visit that we were not watching female black bears and their cubs fishing for salmon or climbing through the Tongass forest. It was unbelievable! I’m not certain of how many bears we saw but it was in the double digits for sure!
It’s important to note that these bears are completely wild and living in their natural habitat. We were able to observe these creatures safely from elevated viewing platforms and suspension bridges that leave a minimal impact on the environment. What a thrill to see these bears outside of the confines of a cage! It may be more expensive and difficult but viewing animals in the wild is worth every penny. I have made a personal choice to prioritize animal welfare by supporting sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres, while avoiding institutions that exploit animals for entertainment. I just don’t believe in captivity unless it’s absolutely necessary.
In addition to viewing the bears (which was more than enough!), we also got to visit the Alaska Raptor Center’s aviary exhibits which included a hawk, bald eagle, and peregrine falcon. Each of the birds at the centre is unable to survive in the wild or being rehabilitated so that they can be released.
We ended our day with a walkthrough an historic sawmill where a Native master totem-pole carver was putting the final touches on his latest creation. Nature, History, and Culture of Alaska all in one afternoon!
Oh and remember that rain I was complaining about… well the rain stopped right about the time we arrived at the Herring Cove. And it turns out black bears tend to hide when the sun comes out so the misty skies were actually a blessing in disguise.