Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Momma Griz - Dangerous, Just Grumpy, or...?

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In the Field

Momma Griz - Dangerous, Just Grumpy, or...? Khutzeymateen Estuary, Northern Great Bear Rainforest, Northern BC Coast, Canada. May 25, 2017.

One of the benefits of being locked down (and prevented from running photo tours) by COVID-19 in 2020 is that it gave me a chance to cull and edit/process raw images sitting in my own massive backlog. In January of 2020 I was sitting on about 86,000 brown bear (i.e., grizzly bear) images...and at the time of this writing (30 Sept 2020) I'm down to a mere 29,000 (and likely will end up with about 10K when I'm finished this massive task). Along the way - and as expected - I found lots of little gems that I had missed in earlier scans of each season's images. This particular shot of a female grizzly apparently scowling and/or "threatening" us is from May of 2017. This female is a mom, and in this shot one of her cubs can be seen catching 40 winks behind her.

This shot brings up a few things worth discussing. First, on the technical end, it was shot with a Sigma Sport 500mm f4 lens...and when I look at this shot I am reminded at how good a lens the Sigma Sport 500 is. After field-testing this lens against the Nikkor 500mm f4E I decided to go with the Sigma 500 and never regretted that decision. Now, to be clear, in the time between when this image was shot and now I HAVE sold my Sigma 500 and replaced it with the diminutive (and excellent) Nikkor 500mm f5.6E PF. But if someone is looking for a quality 500mm lens and they have decided that they NEED an f4 maximum aperture, then the Sigma 500 is a really good option.

My second comment pertains to the content of this image - which appears at first glance to be a female grizzly clearly communicating her displeasure with our presence. This female had 3 cubs with her at the time, and it's easy to assume that what you're seeing here is a threatening - or potentially dangerous - situation. After all, we all know there is almost nothing more predictably dangerous than being near a female grizzly with cubs - right? Well...based on my own experience with grizzlies I'd say the assumption about what the female grizzly is communicating here might be overly dramatic!

To begin with, my view is that it's almost impossible to pigeonhole or make accurate sweeping generalizations about grizzly behavior. Just like with humans, there is a huge amount of variation in how any particular bear will act in a given situation. It's dependent on a whole slew of variables, including the bear's particular personality (and there is HUGE variation in bear personalities!), the bear's long-term and recent experiences with humans, and even events that occurred even minutes before you encounter the bear (which may or may not have any human involvement).

So what was going through this bear's mind when it gave us this look? Well, I dunno. But what I can say is that what's captured here is the very first stage of a long yawn, and shortly thereafter the momma bear rested its head on its forelegs and fell asleep. So I don't think it was too agitated when I captured this image! ;-)

Here's a larger version of this shot (2400 pixels) of this grumpy looked but quite relaxed female grizzly:

Momma Griz - Dangerous, Just Grumpy, or...? Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.5 MB)


1. This image - in all resolutions - is protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of them (including use as desktop backgrounds or screensavers on your own computer), but unauthorized commercial use of the image is prohibited by law. Thanks in advance for respecting my copyright!

2. Like all wildlife photographs on this website, this image was captured following the strict ethical guidelines described in The Wildlife FIRST! Principles of Photographer Conduct. I encourage all wildlife photographers to always put the welfare of their subjects above the value of their photographs.

3. This image was captured during one of my "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tour in the spring of 2017. Each year we offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph aquatic mammals and oceanscapes on the northern and west coasts of Vancouver Island. Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

Behind the Camera

Momma Griz - Dangerous, Just Grumpy, or...? Khutzeymateen Estuary, Northern Great Bear Rainforest, Northern BC Coast, Canada. May 25, 2017.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 900.

Nikon Z7 paired with Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8S at 200mm. Hand-held. VR on and in Normal mode. Single Point Area AF area mode.

1/60s @ f8; No compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Momma Griz - Dangerous, Just Grumpy, or...? Khutzeymateen Estuary, Northern Great Bear Rainforest, Northern BC Coast, Canada. May 25, 2017.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit PSD file (and JPEG files for web use), including all global and selective adjustments, using Phase One's Capture One Pro 20. Global adjustments to this shot included just a tweak to the highlights and clarity (i.e., mid-tone contrast). Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case selective adjustments were made on 4 separate layers and included one or more tweaks to white balance, shadows, blacks, clarity, and the color balance.

Photoshop modifications were limited to the insertion of the watermark and/or text.


Momma Griz - Dangerous, Just Grumpy, or...? Khutzeymateen Estuary, Northern Great Bear Rainforest, Northern BC Coast, Canada. May 25, 2017.

Species Status in Canada*: Special Concern (May 2002).

While Grizzly Bears (Ursus arctos) are not technically listed as "Endangered" in Canada, they have been extirpated from most of their historical range. Grizzly Bears are far more sensitive to intrusion/disturbance in their habitat than are Black Bears and are being increasingly forced into marginal habitat by human encroachment. The Great Bear Rainforest along the central and northern coast of British Columbia is one of the last strongholds of the Grizzly Bear in Canada, and even this population is coming under increasing pressure.

On December 18, 2017 the government of British Columbia banned grizzly hunting across the entire province. This major conservation victory came after decades of tireless work by many dedicated conservationists and ecologists and, most importantly, it reflects the opinion of the vast majority of British Columbians. And, it means that AT LEAST while the current government remains in power grizzlies are finally "safe" in British Columbia.

Now that we've at least temporarily won the battle to save grizzlies in BC, it's time to re-focus our efforts toward protecting ALL of BC's carnivores, including Gray Wolves, Black Bears, Cougars, Wolverines, and more! Simply put, there are no ecological, economic, or ethical arguments supporting the trophy hunting of carnivores.

*as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada