Mike: Hello everyone. My name is Mike Fitz and I’m the media ranger for Katmai National Park and Preserve. Roy: And, my name is Roy Wood. I’m the Chief of Interpretation for Katmai National Park. Mike: And, we’re going to take a little while here to give a preview of what to look for here at Brooks Falls because this is one of the best places in the world to watch bears and this is one of the easiest places for bears to fish. So you’ll see the biggest, most dominant bears fishing for sockeye salmon right here at Brooks Falls. We’re going to take you around the river, go to some of the more preferred fishing spots and discuss a little bit about how the bears use the river. Roy: This section of river is closed from June 15th until August 15th, so just a couple days from now this will be closed down and this will be our last opportunity to get in the river and show you some of the things we think are pretty cool about this river, but also help give you a really neat perspective—maybe a bear’s eye view of the falls, what it’s like to be in the jacuzzi. We are also going to, I believe, try to go above the falls using this camera Mike: Carefully… Roy: Carefully using this camera, stick it out over the edge so you can see sort of the view of the bears that are standing up there fishing. We did this live last, late summer and I think it was one of the more popular bits that we did though we had some technical issues as you might imagine being out in the river and trying to keep the gear dry. But we have a few more toys this year. Hopefully we can get some interesting footage for you. I should, while I’m down here, take a shot back to show you what the bear’s eye view when they are standing on the island is looking up at the platform. Right now there’s only three people up there. In July, there might be 40 standing there watching them, so a very different perspective for the bears and a very different experience for the people right now, because the only wildlife they see at the moment other than a few gulls and some flies would be Mike and I standing here in the river. Mike: So right now, I’m approaching the jacuzzi. This is a spot we’ve nicknamed the jacuzzi for obvious reasons. So it is like a whirlpool in here. It’s like a hot tub only 50 degrees Fahrenheit typically so it’s not very warm, hence the dry suits that we have on. This is perhaps the most preferred fishing spot for dominant males at Brooks Falls, because all you have to do to catch fish is sit in the water right here and wait for the fish to come to you. Now we’re going to try to use our cameras occasionally to stick underneath the water and give you a perspective of what’s down underneath there because what I can see here is almost nothing but bubbles. So when the bears are fishing in this spot they are basically just feeling for the fish. And they get way down in the water. Sometimes hardly any of them will actually be exposed. They’ll get way down in the water. The force of the water here prevents a lot of those smaller bears from successfully fishing here though. In fact, I’m trying to move a little bit closer and the force of the water is actually really pushing against me It is difficult for me to go much further than this. I think if I were to try to go further into the water I’d really have to start swimming. Roy: And he does have a microphone, a very expensive microphone, that we don’t want to get ruined. Otherwise, he could go in and it drops off rapidly and becomes very turbulent and really difficult to stand up in. It’s bad enough right now. Mike: It is even difficult for me to keep my feet. You might see me shifting around and that’s because the force of the water and the gravel shifting underneath me makes it difficult for me to stand in one spot. Bears, they’re working against all of these forces and at the same time they are concentrating on something bumping into them. So you’ll see them oftentimes just sitting here looking like they are not doing anything, and all the sudden they’ll feel something against them and I think there’s a fish against my foot. I can feel something in the water. Roy: Can you feel it? Here, hold this and keep talking and I’m going to see if I can see the fish against your foot. Mike: Against my left leg. Roy: Your left leg? Mike: My right leg. Excuse me. My right leg on the upstream side of it there’s something wiggling in there. Who knows what it is. Roy: Something just hit the camera. Mike: It feels like a fish in the water down there. Bears are waiting for something to bump into them. They’ll grab it with their paws. Pin it against their body. They’ll use their mouth then afterwards to grab it and bite it, bring it up to the surface. Many of the bears that can fish in this spot are so dominant they don’t have to worry about another bear chasing them away. They will just end up eating it right in this spot here. I hope we get the fish. There’s definitely a fish flapping against my leg. Roy: I’m going to a little deeper with this camera. Mike: I’ll steady you if you want. Roy: I’m having a really hard time standing, but what I’m trying to do is get in here close. I don’t know. Do you think this is about where Otis would be? Mike: I think he’s going to be right where you are. Roy: Right where I am? OK. So this is about Otis’s view right here of the world. Well actually, this is Otis’s view of the world. Watching the water, waiting for fish to bump up against him, and then grabbing them. I just felt something against my leg. So there is probably rainbow trout that are in here right now. We also may be feeling some rocks moving around, some small pebbles, because the turbulence is pretty amazing in the jacuzzi. You know it is really a testament to the mass of these animals that they can sit here and maintain that place and not burn up calories like crazy. Impressive, because I’m having to fight it so I’d be exhausted. Mike: Even with the dry suits on, I’m feeling the cold against my body and I don’t think I’d last in here, you know, all that much longer but bears will sit here for hours and they really don’t seem to be affected by the cold water whatsoever. Roy: So we mostly talk about bears here, but the salmon are equally impressive, because they’re fighting this current for, you know, weeks heading up stream in some cases and in our case it’s about a week or so that they are moving upstream. But they are fighting it and they get to an obstacle like this and I don’t know if people have given it much thought before, but water is one thing to be in but foam and current is different. Because when you have foam like this you basically have air in the water so you don’t have the ability to push off from it anymore. So the fact that those fish can jump from this foam six to eight feet up and get over the falls there just amazes me every time I see it. Mike: The salmon when they are making the leap watch for them to jump pretty consistently just from the spot that’s maybe another foot from Roy’s right hand. Roy: Whoa and it got really deep there. Mike: It does get deep there. As the water plunges down off of Brooks Falls it circulates, it creates this hydraulic. So we have this hydraulic circulation where it happens to come back up to the surface and the salmon use that to their advantage. Then they’ll jump right at that spot and I really never see salmon successfully jumping from anywhere else except from right here and just behind us. On the far side, they might try from time to time, but we never really see them jump successfully from that spot. So I’m amazed that they can make this leap. I can never fight the current to get up on Brooks Falls from this spot. Roy: Water’s blowing me away here. Mike: Right next to the falls it’s actually above my head. A couple of weeks ago, I went swimming here on a really warm day and it’s quite strong in there, and it wasn’t all the fun of an experience to get dunked underneath the water and not be able to see anything but bubbles in front of your face. The force of the water is making it pretty hard for me to move upstream. Roy: I wonder if you go up a little bit further, you going right up the chute. Mike: So underneath me right now, it’s all bedrock. There’s a little bit of gravel here and there. But the bedrock is a little bit slippery. It has some slime on it. There’s a little bit of sand here so it is easier to walk. I’m actually in a little bit of an eddy of some rocks up at the falls, so this is really easy to walk through here. So a lot of bears will like to fish this area. You’ll sometimes see bears around here stacked up on top of one another, because you can stand in a variety of places and the water is fairly shallow, so a salmon that makes a mistake and swims close to the bears, the bears can take advantage of it and they can just pounce on it. Roy: I like this spot. Mike: This is better than down there. Roy: I know some people were wondering about the logs. Would the logs still be there? Mike: Oh, okay. There they are. Roy: There you go. And, we can in for the scale on those too. If any of you saw Great Bear Stakeout, when we were setting up some of the cameras for Great Bear Stakeout, this log in front of me came over the falls while we were just over here in the river putting some cameras in. So that was kind of an interesting thing, because we sure if it was going to come sideways and come sweeping right through. Mike: Can we get a good shot of the rocks? Some people are curious about the geology of Brooks Falls. So you can see that the rocks here of the falls. This is a conglomerate so this is a sedimentary rock. Big cobbles in here that were worn down and rounded by streams long, long ago. There was such an eddy from the current, these rocks block the current so well that the bears can stand here really easily and that might explain why we see smaller bears maybe fishing this spot, because it is an easier place to stand, and it may be a little easier to see the salmon in the water. I never noticed that before until we got in here now. Mike: Anytime you watch the bears, you’ll want to marvel at their strength. They’re so giant that they have an easier time moving through the water partially based on their size but also it’s because they are so strong too. So I had difficulty moving through that area and a bear, when you are watching them, they’ll walk through the water like they are not really concerned about the strength of the current what so ever. It’s really only small bears that have a hard time fighting this current, first year cubs in particular, but otherwise they move through the water with ease. I’m in a spot that many bears will fish at as well too, especially late in the season. In the fall, like September, many fish will be in the Brooks River but they won’t necessarily be migrating. In fact the migration period at that time has actually stopped, so bears rarely fish at Brooks Falls except for a few in particular that have learned there is a place here and there where they can successfully catch fish. And on bear in particular that’s a favorite on the cams, became very famous last year, is number 480 and he’s nicknamed Otis. He likes to sit right in this spot and he’ll sit here for hours and hours and hours staring at the water not looking like he’s doing anything at all, but he’s focused on the water. He’s very much paying attention to what’s right in front of him, because again he’s waiting for the fish to make a mistake. Bears are very good at practicing energy economics. They want to gain as much profit in calories as possible without expending any calories. So sitting here in the water waiting for a fish to swim in front of you in one way that bears can maximize their profits in calories and Otis is very good at exploiting this spot to his advantage. Mike: One other thing about this spot is that many bears who aren’t tolerant of the presence of people will fish this area instead of going to the far side of the river where people happen to be standing. There’s many bears here that just don’t like being around people, so they end up coming to this spot, seeing all the people on the wildlife viewing platforms across the river and saying, “No I really don’t like that. I think I’ll stay across the river and fish over here.” So our presence does have potential impacts on the animals. That’s why it is really important while we are here to give all bears space so they can go about their business. Because if we ended up building another wildlife viewing platform up above me, it’s quite likely that some bears that are not tolerant of the presence of people would not come down to Brooks Falls to fish. And that’s why the platform where the cams are located is closed from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m from June 15th to August 15th to allow those bears who are not tolerant of the presence of people the opportunity to fish all along the falls without our presence potentially impacting them. Mike: I’m going to climb the falls. I’ve done this before. We’ll see if I make a mistake and fall off. That’s a very easy thing for a bear to do. Not so easy for a human in a dry suit that’s a little stiff. Mike: If you are wondering where all the black flies that are always buzzing around us and bears come from. Well, these are their pupal casings. This log recently turned over so their larval forms are aquatic so this would’ve been underneath the water before and they would’ve been attached to this before they happened to pupate and come up to the surface and try to find a meal from a mammal. Roy: Right now, we’re going to try to creep out as far towards the lip of the falls as safely as we think we can safely do it. I have wading boots. They have sticky rubber soles. Mike has running shoes, sticky rubber soles, but I don’t think they can compare to the bears feet for gripping these moss covered very slippery surfaces. Bears’ feet are very rough with calluses and they weigh substantially more than Mike and I weigh put together. And they are anchored with four-wheel drive. They are fastened firmly to the ground. Even with that they do occasionally slip and go right over the side, which you probably have seen on the cameras a few times. We intend to not give you a demonstration of that today. Mike: They also know exactly where to step too. You’ll see them approach the falls and they step in the same places every time. Some are very good at it. I don’t think I want to test my skills and try and find the right places though. Roy: I’m pretty good as long as I’m stepping on gravel. Once I step on smooth rock, I start to have issues with it, because that’s where it starts to get slippery. But I have this handy dandy GoPro on a stick, so I was hoping I could stick it out about to the bear’s view without blocking Mike too much. Mike: Here, if you want to go I can grab you waist harness. Roy: You won’t just let go for the comedic effect? Mike: Well, I might. It depends. Roy: So anyway, the bears will be roughy in this area closer to the edge. You see some of them just really hang their faces right over the top. And I know if I slip I’m going over Mike: If we go down, we’re going over for sure. Roy: That’s why I’m being especially careful. Somewhere in about here is the bears’ view, though I think it probably needs to be further out. Mike: Yeah, maybe right over here. Roy: The current is very strong here right now. I’ve seen it worse than this, more strong than this, but I certainly wouldn’t have come out if it was worse than this. So down like this looking over the top waiting for those fish to jump up. A lot of times people are asking us why they don’t face upstream. So the salmon are coming this direction why do the bears face that way instead of facing upstream, thinking they can catch them from behind sort of. Mike: Well the salmon are basically just leaping into the bears mouth. The salmon are taking, I think, a leap of faith more than anything else. They’re just hoping there’s no predator that happens to be in their way. They, when they are in the water, they can’t see what’s up above them. Roy: But, I mean why are the bears facing upstream? And, I don’t really have a good answer to that except that I think its probably easier to catch something moving away from me than something that is coming at me maybe so fast and so close to me I don’t have time to react. I don’t know. We’ve had to answer that a couple of times on chats. Mike: Facing downstream must not be a successful strategy, because otherwise the bears would be doing it. Roy: Yeah, some bear would’ve tried it by now and succeeded. Mike: And, the bears learn from one another. Fishing up at Brooks Falls on the lip at Brooks Falls is a learned behavior. Young bears will try this because they see other bears doing it, but a lot of times they’re not that good. Fish hit them in the face. You’ll see them miss. You’ll see them fall off, so it does take a lot of skill to fish at certain places in Brooks falls. Roy: Absolutely. Mike: Some are specialists and they only fish here or they only fish down there. Some will fish all over the place. Oftentimes you’ll see bears sitting or standing downstream of Brooks Falls, maybe where I am or on the island or kind of across the river. These smaller bears, in many cases, are hesitant to approach the falls. Many of those bears that you see are what we call subadult bears, and subadult bears are bears that are generally between two and half years old and five and half years old. They’re not quite adults. They are sort of the teenagers of the bear world. They’re independent, but they are still learning their way throughout the bear society, the bear world. So, they’re waiting oftentimes for their opportunity to fish downstream of Brooks Falls, but they can’t compete with the larger, more dominant bears that are at Brooks Falls, so you’ll see them sitting here waiting their turn for those opportunities. Thanks for joining us everyone. We hope that by watching us walk through the water and sort of struggle from place to place you can get a good idea of how strong these animals are, and it’s not only the bears, but also the salmon as well. They are struggling to migrate to their spawning grounds Their sole purpose of returning each and every year is to reach their spawning grounds so they can reproduce. The bears, they’re coming to Brooks Falls because they need the salmon to survive, so when you are watching the bears at Brooks Falls and you’re watching the salmon it does really, to me, emphasize just how much perseverance these animals have, how much strength they have, and the survival instincts that these animals have too. So when the cams go live make sure you go get your large screen monitor for your computer at home. Roy: Buy two. We got extra cams this year. Mike: We got lots of extra cams and sit back with your favorite snack and enjoy the show. This is nature’s true reality show and one of the best reality shows on earth.