Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Amalik Bay 18th June - 1st July

Fishing and Bear Watching

We left Kodiak harbor early Saturday morning. Because the weather forecast for Shelikoff Strait was NE 25 knots for Sunday, we continued straight to Amalik Bay where we dropped anchor at 00.45 Sunday morning.

The next day was so windy that we decided to stay onboard. So, instead of going fishing, Pekka spent the day installing a filter for the fresh water tank, fixing the holding tank pump, and every now and again climbing up the davits to hammer our old wind generator to life. Riitta, on the other hand, stayed on watch with binoculars and managed to spot a golden-brown bear wandering in the bushes, and a lone wolf sauntering on the beach. 

   (sea otter)

On Monday morning, we went rockfishing and nature photographing. While in Geographic Harbor, we witnessed a territorial dispute between a bald eagle and a crow who seemed to think that the eagle had come too close to its nest. As we know, crows can be pretty vicious, and the eagle was wise enough to yield.

On our way to a great rockfishing place we know near the mouth of Amalik Bay, we detected two cubs resting on the rocky shoreline. About half an hour later when returning to the boat with our lunch (three rockfish!), we saw the cubs go into the water and start swimming across the bay. We gave the bears a wide berth and wished them the best of luck with their ice-cold crossing. 

Before we reached our boat, we saw a sow on the nearby beach. It was probably the same bear Riitta had seen the day before, but we live in the hope of seeing more and more bears in Amalik Bay as the tide becomes more favourable leaving more of the sandy beach dry for the bears to dig razor clams. This should happen in less than a week! 

Early Wednesday morning we motored to Geopraphic Harbor’s inner bay to see how the mussels there were doing. Before going back to the boat, we went fishing as usual. But this time catching a fish was not as easy as usual. We first caught two not-so-good-to-eat fish and then a far-too-small rockfish which we released. And then nothing! Annoyed with the situation, we motored to other side of the bay to try our luck there. During the first fifteen minutes, not a single bite! Then finally when we had already given up hope of catching any fish and Pekka was reeling in the line, up came a good-sized rockfish!  

We also took some Kelp (seaweed) with us to make soup. The recipe (slightly modified) was given to us by our good friends from Capella III.

Kelp Soup:

Kelp or any edible seaweed
Potatoes or Sweet Potatoes
Fresh Ginger
Cane Sugar
Black Pepper
Garnish each serving with Sour Cream and Fresh Coriander

On Thursday morning Riitta woke up at 7 to see if there were any newcomers on the shores. However, the whole bay was engulfed in such a thick fog that she went back to bed. A few hours later, when we finally left the boat to go fishing we first motored to the nearby beach where a young bear was digging razor clams, although at a very leisurely pace. 

As we continued to the fishing grounds, we saw a couple on the shore who were making sure that there will also be bears in Amalik Bay in the future. But that day we never went fishing because quite suddenly the weather deteriorated with strong gusts of wind and drizzle, and we thought it best to return to the boat. 

Later that evening, we saw three bears on a nearby slope. The setting was so interesting that we had to go and observe it closer. There was Goldie (the golden-brown bear Riitta had seen before) and two newcomers, a darker brown sow and her three-year-old cub. Goldie who so far had been extremely reclusive was now up on the slope keenly following the movements of the other bears, and more than ready to defend her territory. When the sow started climbing up the slope, there were all the elements for a conflict. And sure enough, as soon as the sow got closer to Goldie she charged. The bears stood there for a while roaring at each other and then the weaker, in this case, the sow retreated.

We were near the shoreline drifting while watching this bear scrap, the outboard tilted as the water was so shallow. When the sow came down the slope seemingly annoyed and headed towards us, we managed to start our outboard in record time. 

However, she was not interested in us at all but merely wanted to cool off after her dispute with Goldie.

The following day when going fishing, we saw a bear on the shore with such a purposeful stride that we became curious and decided to see where she was going. Hence we motored slowly along the shoreline keeping pace with the bear.

Soon we saw a bigger sow further away digging razor clams on the beach. As we, the bear and us, came closer, it became quite clear that the Clam Digger was not willing to share her claim without a fight.

Suddenly a deafening roar filled the air, and we saw the two bears standing face to face motionless in mental combat. After a while our bear, younger and smaller in size, backed off, turned around and walked slowly away. Because there is a high potential for injury, bears avoid physical contact whenever they can. 

On Saturday, we woke up to an absolutely gorgeous summer day and decided to motor to Geographic Harbor to see if salmon run had already started. Obviously not as there were no bears to be seen on the river banks. But this may be just a matter of days as on our way to the river we saw bears heading in the same direction.

Today is the summer solstice, and the low tide has left the sandy beaches around the bay dry (the difference between high and low tide is more than four metres). There should now be at least a dozen bears in a frenzy of digging razor clams but no, we can only see three bears on the shores. This confirms what we already knew but were not willing to accept: there are no razor clams galore in Amalik Bay anymore. 

In 2014, when we were here last we noticed that in places the bottom of the bay was covered with white clamshells, in other words, the razor clams were dying. The Park Rangers told us then that the matter was being investigated: water and soil samples had been taken, and air pollution, climate change, and the possibility of a disease were all taken into consideration. Whatever the cause for the destruction, it is clear that the clams have not (yet!?) managed to recover.  

Fortunately, razor clams are not the only food for the bears here as their diet also includes bear grass, mussels, roots, berries, and mushrooms. And soon they will start gorging on spawning salmon to build up fat for the winter.


For the past six days continuous rain and strong winds, gusting to 50+ knots, have prevented us from going either fishing or bear watching. As we have encountered another computer problem, this time it is Riitta’s Mac that refuses to co-operate, we’ll return to Kodiak on Saturday when the wind is supposed to finally abate.

Just before leaving, we motored one more time round Amalik Bay to take the last (ever?) photos of some of its residents. 

There is a bald eagle’s nest on top of a high island near our boat that we wanted to photograph as well. Riitta was just about to take a photo of the eagle when something moved in the background, and suddenly a mother bear and her cub appeared on the camera’s display. 

What a wonderful surprise, and a great end to our visit to Amalik Bay!

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