Athena and cubs Denali & Sitka
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We met grizzly bear mother Athena in August, 2007 during our last camping trip of the summer. She was the first bear that we saw upon arriving. After setting up our camp, we headed down the beach towards the river. We were anxious to see if the salmon run had finally arrived, and anticipated that the fishing had probably only gotten better since we had left the bears several weeks ago. We were clipping down the beach when we spotted a blond bear napping in the sand. As we approached, we realized that two first year cubs, fuzzy and dark brown, were leaning against her left side fast asleep. We slowed down our pace, approaching her gently and making sure that she knew we were there - not hard considering she probably smelled us before we even saw her ourselves. She lifted her head and glanced our way. She had a lion’s mane of long straight blond hair, a halo around her bald looking face. As we passed by her, walking at the water’s edge, I couldn’t help but beam a huge smile when I saw one of her cubs. He had drowsily sat himself up, but was reclining backwards against his mother. He peered at us with sleepy eyes and he had a miniature pot belly, with a crease in his skin above the protruding tummy. He looked only half conscious, probably full and sleepy from nursing a short time ago. Wow, what a beautiful way to start the visit.
What we didn’t know at that time was that we would see this mother everyday of our trip, and get to know her and her cubs better than any of the other mothers in Hallo Bay that year (and it was spring cub mania- we had seen three mothers with three cubs each, and at least four mothers with two spring cubs each). We next spotted Athena and her two cubs in the meadows. All three bears ate their way around the patch of sedge grass, and the cubs inevitably grew more interested in play than in eating. They tumbled and wrestled in a ball of kicking fur and gnashing teeth. One of the cubs eventually lied down on her back to examine more closely her feet. She grabbed each foot in her front paws and yanked them up to her mouth. Sucking on one foot while lolling off to one side, she entertained herself with her own toes for quite some time.
Later that day we spotted Athena napping on the beach with her cubs resting a good distance away from her, sleeping off on their own in the sand. It looked odd because we’ve never seen cubs sleep so far away from their mother – they usually are curled up and touching her. We also started noticing that she would get really far away from the cubs while she spent time in the river fishing, even with lots of other bears around. I started to wonder if I should name her Joan Crawford, but talking about her later with Brad, a local bear guide, showed me thay I was making a wrong assumption. Brad has known many of the bears in Hallo Bay for years, and we bumped into him while he guided a group of photographers. He told us that Athena was an older mother who was extremely experienced and dominant in this area. He said that it is actually the really inexperienced or first time mothers that tend to act extremely cautious about their cubs. We’ve seen a couple mothers like that, who run for their lives whenever any bear or anything new comes in the scene that spooks them in the slightest. Athena is apparently a total bad ass in this area, and she is really dominant. Brad said that she had been charging a lot of bears the past few days – males and females, and that no one messes with Athena. That's why she’s so comfortable with leaving her cubs at a long distance.
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