Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Bear Spray

By now you should have seen this video. Judging by the near 3 million views I think everyone has seen this video.

This woman was not far from where I had my own bear encounter while paddling the Inside Passage. But despite the fact that you have probably seen this video a few times, there are a few things I want to point out. However, before I do, I want to say that I wasn't there - though I have been in situations like this, not far from her - but as I discuss her actions, I need to be clear it is for the benefit of other paddlers, I don't have any problem with this woman, and my intention is not to malign her.

For clarity, it is important to understand that she is standing at the front door to a cabin, where she could go for safety. From what I have read, she had just brought a load of gear including her food to the cabin, when she heard something outside. What she saw was a 600 to 800 pound coastal brown bear - I am saying that based on the hump on his back, and the shape of his face, If I am wrong, please let me know!

From the video it looks like she still has some gear down by the boat. It is also been said that this encounter was going on for a few minutes before she started taping. The bear is standing on the grass below her. She has the time to say "I am going to pepper spray you in the face". I am going to estimate the bear to be between 20 and 30 feet away (Based on the distance that pepper spray shoots, 30 feet approximately, and the fact the bear appears to be at the edge of that range.) This bear is not exhibiting any aggressive behavior. It is essentially sniffing around. It's fur doesn't appear to be up. It isn't making any noise. It isn't standing on its hind legs. It isn't charging (clearly). It isn't doing anything aggressive. She has the time to say "I am going to spray you with pepper spray". If you can say that, you don't need to use pepper spray. This is a great time to make a lot of noise, bang some pots and pans, maybe throw a rock - as I did. She could have even retreated to the cabin. The time to use pepper spray is when a bear is being aggressive or threatening. She doesn't need to.

After she discharges spray, the bear heads towards the boat. The bear is interested in the seat, and the cockpit area, because clearly it smells of food. As someone who has paddled the Alaskan coast, I can say I am sure she ate in her cockpit while paddling. You have to. There is almost no choice. Now that the bear is attacking the boat, I am curious why she didn't spray it again?

At the end of the day, this bear was just being a curious bear. It smelled something it liked, and was investigating.

I strongly suggest people read "bear attacks: their causes and avoidance" - it is the leading authority on bear behavior. I would also say, Don't paddle alone, particularly in bear country. I didn't want to do it, I am impressed she did. But if she had someone with her, they probably could have scared the bear away, and then gotten the rest of their gear - and maybe even the kayaks - into the cabin.

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