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  • Writer's picturePaul Davis

Swimming Brown Bear Meets Orcas

Located on the shores of rugged Baranof Island, Sitka, Alaska, is home to some of the most abundant and diverse species of notable wildlife found anywhere. In addition to being an extremely rich feeding grounds for numerous species of whales and also puffins and sea otters, Sitka is known for having some of the highest densities of Brown Bears on the planet.

Being the owner and captain of, Gallant Adventures, I get to explore the amazing area around Sitka, Alaska every single day. Since I’m out on the water all of the time, I have a pretty good idea of what to anticipate each day; but in all reality, you truly never know what you might see!

After leaving a pod of bubble-netting humpback whales one day, we headed to majestic Saint Lazaria Island to view it’s sea caves and observe the puffins and other endemic sea birds. As we rounded a point extending off Mt. Edgecumbe Volcano, something unusual caught my eye. This particular point that extends from the volcano and into the open ocean usually has hundreds of seals on its shoreline, but what caught my eye was much larger and had 4 legs…It was a Coastal Brown Bear! I’m assuming the bear was out there to feast on seals, but it’s hard to say because when we saw him, he was walking into the ocean and began swimming towards a tree covered island about a mile away.

Moments later, things REALLY got interesting. As my attention was focused on how e

ffortlessly this brown bear can swim, a client excitedly yells “ORCAS!!!”. I see Killer Whales near this Point quite often as the seals are a favorite food source for them, but this time they are heading Straight Towards the swimming bear. The orcas take several breaths and then and appear to dive. Several minutes go by and I begin to wonder if they’ve moved on, when suddenly, the brown bear gets rapidly yanked under water but with no signs of the orcas. The bear surfaces with a loud ROAR that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. As quickly as he surfaces, he is pulled back underwater while his loud roar begins to sound like a gargle. This time I see fear in the bears eyes, something I’ve never seen in my lifetime. Now some of the Killer Whales are thrashing on the surface and but there’s no sign of the bear. Then as quickly as the orcas appeared, they vanished. Again, what seems like minutes go by and a matted furry lifeless ball of brown bear pops up literally RIGHT NEXT TO THE BOAT. It’s the brown bear. And he’s dead.

We continued to drift. Motor off, not making a noise. Waiting to see what happens next. As more time passes, I scan the distance with my binoculars and catch a glimpse of 2 tall dorsal fins in the distance heading out to sea.

I’m left wondering why the orcas killed that bear but didn’t eat it. There wasn’t even blood. They just drowned that bear and left it. Maybe it was to prove they’re Alaska’s TRUE apex predator or perhaps it was mere curiosity. One thing is for sure, you just NEVER KNOW what you’re going to see when you’re out exploring with Gallant Adventures!

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