Eyes of the Great Bear
A conservation photographer's take on Canada's most remote rainforest
Not long ago, Ian McAllister was paddling his canoe in an estuary on Canada’s West Coast when he noticed “two furry ears” floating on the water nearby.
“They were attached to a grizzly bear snorkeling along looking for salmon carcasses that were bouncing along the river bed,” explains McAllister.
“The bear clambered up onto a floating log for a rest and I was able to drift within twenty feet of him to take this picture (shown above). It was an amazing way to end a day in the Great Bear Rainforest.”
And so goes the life of one of Canada’s finest conservation photographers – a man who has been living in the heart of Canada’s most remote rainforest, which spans from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alaskan Panhandle, with his family since the late 90’s.
Lucky for Toque & Canoe and our readers, Ian agreed to share this selection of mostly unpublished images from his Great Bear Rainforest home – just listed by National Geographic as a must-see destination for travelers in 2013.
“Human beings are a visual species. The right image can inspire people to act, to want to protect the planet. Finding that image is challenging in a landscape like Canada’s West Coast because the environment is dominated by rough weather, dodgy logistics, low light and lots of rain,” says Ian.
“So you’re dealing with all this on top of trying to photograph some of the most elusive wildlife in the world,” he continues. “Plus, I’m almost always alone, running my own boat, and every day there are calculated risks that need to be decided upon. The whole situation conspires to make tough image-making.”
We hope you enjoy Ian’s photos. We certainly did. The cutlines belong to him.
“The lifeblood of the Great Bear Rainforest, these pink salmon arrive on the B.C. coast in the millions and provide food for over 200 species. During this photo shoot, I lowered myself into a pool of fish inch by inch, so I wouldn’t spook them, and braced myself against some rocks as the water ran over me. It was a very cool moment, to be in the river with these fish that had just completed a miraculous journey having travelled thousands of miles through the open Pacific Ocean to return home to their natal river or stream. The collective wealth of over a thousand different salmon runs such as this one will be impacted by how Canadians choose to manage this sensitive area in the future.”
“The wolves of the Great Bear Rainforest have been sheltered by islands and remote wilderness for thousands of years. This genetically unique population may suffer the least amount of human persecution of any wolf population in the world. I have had to completely redefine my understanding of these highly social and intelligent animals as they give me access to their hidden world without aggression and fear. I think the ancient relationship that once existed between people and wolves is possible again, but not until the unwarranted notion that these animals are indiscriminate killers is wiped out. These animals deserve protection, not persecution.”
“Bat stars cling to a rock near Hakai pass, just south of Bella Bella. I was scuba diving with a tidal current running over me at seven knots. In order to grab pictures like this one, I had to brace myself in a rocky crevasse and try to be still enough to snap a shot. Not easy, but I was happy with this image because these stars were a kaleidoscope of exquisite colours.”
“Sibling spirit bear cubs patiently wait for their mother to catch a salmon. These globally rare bears have come to symbolize the struggle to protect the Great Bear Rainforest from human activity such as logging, trophy hunting and oil tanker traffic. They represent the mystery of this fascinating coastline. But in my mind, they equally represent the fragility of these vulnerable ecosystems.”
“Steller sea lions rest on the outer coast of the Great Bear Rainforest. The interface between ocean and rainforest is undefined for species like sea lions that depend on both environments for survival. For the record, a 2000 pound plus animal staring down at you is a humbling sight. Thankfully humans are not on the menu.”
“This is a spirit bear cub trying to cross one of the countless rivers that flow through the Great Bear Rainforest. It was heartbreaking to watch this cub trying to get across the river. Because if it failed, and got caught up in the current, it would have gone right over a huge waterfall – likely drowning. Normally, I don’t get involved with wildlife. But I think I would have jumped in for this little fellow. I was like, ‘Oh God, I hope this doesn’t happen!'”
“An evolutionary close relative of the Grizzly, the Steller sea lion is as clumsy as a bulldozer on land and as graceful as a mermaid underwater. The second largest known colony of Steller sea lions in the Pacific Ocean is found along the B.C. coast. While diving along a proposed oil tanker route near Hartley Bay, I was visited by about 200 of these graceful swimmers.
“This mother grizzly and her two cubs would walk from the forest to a small island each day at low tide. I just had to sit way up high with a long lens to catch their daily migration. I really believe that if the world could see how special this place is, there would be no question that it’s worth protecting. Living in the Great Bear Rainforest is a like a dream come true. But it comes with a responsibility to give back. In this regard, I hope the conservation work I do, the images I take, will make a difference.”
If you like our Great Bear Rainforest post, feel free to share it on your social media channels as a thanks to Ian (shown above).
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