Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Spider Bear, Spider Bear

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In the Field

Spider Bear, Spider Bear. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 28, 2016.

Who would have known that grizzly bears are great rock climbers? I've been watching and photographing bears for decades, but until May of 2016 I had never seen a grizzly climb straight up a vertical rock face! This shot was captured mid-way through a fascinating sequence where the bear first swam across a channel in the Khutzeymateen estuary, walked determinedly to the back side of the rock pillar, climbed it, and then snuggled up in a cozy moss bed on the top and nodded off. Here the bear has just "summited" the steepest face and is using its powerful front legs (can't call them arms I guess!) to pull its hind end up on the rock. At the time I thought " looks almost like a spider there!" Climbing the pillar took a small toll on the bear - we noticed that she ended up losing the tips of two claws on her front left paw (right side of this image) during the climb. But like some human rock climbers I know, she seemed to shake it off and just focus on that summit! ;-)

While this shot has a big element of the old "f8 and be there" reality (and luck) associated with it, sometimes I have to remind myself how lucky we are to have some pretty amazing technology in our hands these days - and how that crazy technology goes a long way towards allowing us to record such cool scenes. As often is the case in BC's coastal rainforest, there wasn't a whole lot of available light when I captured this shot. Yet because of the great ISO performance of the Nikon D5 and the effective optical stabilization found on the Sigma Sport 150-600mm zoom lens I was easily able to dial my camera up to ISO 5000 and zoom to 460mm and shoot this scene hand-held (at 1/400s) from a floating zodiac. I'm kinda glad that my only sighting of a rock climbing grizzly wasn't a few decades ago...imagine trying to shoot this with Velvia 50! ;-)

For those wanting to take a better look at this spider bear, here's a higher resolution (2400 pixel) version for your perusal:

Spider Bear, Spider Bear: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 2.6 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. This image was captured during one of my two spring "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tours in May/June of 2016. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph aquatic mammals and oceanscapes near the northern tip of Vancouver Island. And, in selected years, I also offer photo tours to locations to capture other highly sought-after subjects, such as various boreal owl species and wildlife of Canada's Arctic. Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

3. Like all wildlife images on this website, the subject(s) is/are fully wild and completely unconstrained. Besides the potential impact of my/our presence, nothing has been done to intentionally alter or affect the ongoing behavior of the subject and, of course, there has been no use of any form of bait or other form of wildlife attractants (including vocalizations).

Behind the Camera

Spider Bear, Spider Bear. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 28, 2016.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 5000.

Nikon D5 paired with Sigma Sport 150-600mm zoom @ 460mm. Hand-held from floating Zodiac. Optical stabilization on and in "OS1" mode.

1/400s @ f7.1; No compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Spider Bear, Spider Bear. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 28, 2016.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 9. Four raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure settings (0.75 stop total difference between the variants), highlight and shadow retrieval settings, and noise reduction settings.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2015 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the four output files from the raw converter, selective colour desaturation, and final selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


Spider Bear, Spider Bear. Khutzeymateen Inlet, northern BC Coast, Canada. May 28, 2016.

Ten percent of the revenue generated by this image will be donated to Raincoast*.

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.

Sadly, because this bear resides in BC, there's a very real chance that its life will be ended by a bullet. And, its head and paws will be cut off (leaving its carcass to simply rot) so that they can be mounted and adorn the wall of some fearless trophy hunter (who will, no doubt, be cheered on by all the grasses, sedges and clams that will be saved from being so mercilessly eaten by this fearsome beast).

The debate about the trophy hunting of carnivores can be broken into 3 arguments: the ethical, the economic, and the ecological. The ethical argument for the trophy hunting of grizzlies in BC? On that one - just go back and look at this image and read the paragraph immediately above. The economic argument? Well, it's on even shakier grounds - not only does bear-watching in BC generate 11-15 times as much revenue as bear hunting (and employ 10-15 times as many people), but the revenue generated by bear hunting doesn't even cover the cost to the BC Gov't of managing the hunt itself - it's a net loss to the taxpayers of BC (all studies related to these economic claims can be supplied on request). The ecological argument? Yep, you guessed right - there isn't one. As a matter of fact, an increasing body of sound, peer-reviewed scientific studies have shown how the guild of carnivores at the TOP of the food chain are exceptionally important to the overall health of ecosystems - everything from ensuring continued biodiversity through to maximizing that amount of carbon dioxide the ecosystem can absorb (climate change consequences, anyone?).

So why does the trophy hunting of carnivores (and bears in particular) continue to exist in BC? Good question. Well, it sure isn't because of public support - just under 90% of British Columbians are against it. And many First Nations have banned it in their territories. Sadly, it appears that little more than the fact that a handful of elected officials (MLA's) in a few rural ridings fear the backlash from voters if they stand against trophy hunting is keeping trophy hunting alive.

Those wishing to get active in helping to stop the trophy hunting of carnivores in BC are encouraged to visit this page on Raincoast's website. And please help spread the word!

*The Raincoast Conservation Society (and Foundation) is an effective and efficient organization that has been fighting for protection of this unique habitat. If you are looking for a meaningful way to contribute to the conservation of this amazing ecosystem, Raincoast will provide maximal "bang" for your conservation dollars.

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