Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

A Tribute to the Good Mom

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In the Field

A Tribute to the Good Mom. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast (Great Bear Rainforest), Canada. May 29, 2014.

While I love nature, there's no disguising the fact that perfectly natural events can - at times - seem to be harsh, cruel and upsetting. This is one of those times...

Virtually everyone visiting the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary in 2014 got to see (and be entertained by) a female grizzly and her two cubs that were "hanging out" almost daily on an alluvial fan out in the main inlet. Those of us who have been going into the Khutzeymateen for years knew this female as "Clam-digger" (for obvious reasons). I first saw her back in 2009 - on a sandy beach doing what you'd expect a bear called Clam-digger doing (that would be digging up clams). Back then she was thin and, to be honest, not the world's most attractive bear - her coat was patchy, and she had beady eyes (we always wondered if something had happened to her when she was younger and she somehow damaged her eyes - seems like she ALWAYS squinted).

Fast forward to spring of 2014. After not being seen for a few years, Clam-digger reappeared on one of the Khutzeymateen inlet's many alluvial fans, with two 2nd year cubs in tow. Over the years she had aged very well - she had "filled-in" very nicely, her coat was now full and resplendent. She had become a pretty good looking bear (but she still had those squinty, beady eyes!).

Over the remainder of the spring and early summer of 2014 she provided hours of pleasure to the human visitors of the Khutzeymateen - much of it as she did her thing...clamming! And, not surprisingly, her cubs were quickly turning into first rate clammers themselves. It was with no small degree of amusement that we watched one of her cubs (the white-faced one, which we think was a male) clam right beside mom, and promptly steal almost every clam that mom dug up! Mom had the greatest patience with the little thief, though on a few occasions we saw her roar and cuff the little klepto-clammer!

Clam-digger seemed to be a very vigilant mom. Whenever she strayed from the open beach she'd keep a careful eye (albeit a squinty careful eye) out for danger. This shot (which I had initially titled "Psst...don't tell Mom but...) shows Clam-digger the Good Mom in a typical pose, carefully watching over her cubs.

Sadly, Clam-digger is no more. She died in late June while defending her cubs from a large male grizzly who, apparently, had his eyes set on dining on the cubs. While I did not see the encounter (quite thankfully), by all accounts the male grizzly stalked and closely approached (and surprised her cubs), but the Good Mom intervened before either of her cubs were hurt and she took on the much bigger male in an epic but ill-fated battle.

At present the fate of her cubs is unknown, but when last seen they were doing fine. With luck, there's a decent chance they will survive and, hopefully, live long lives. Perhaps they'll even have cubs of their own and keep the Good Mom's genes "alive". Fingers crossed.

Here's to you Clam-digger - may you rest in peace. I'll do what I can to ensure that images of you are in circulation - and used to help protect bears in BC and abroad - for as long as I can!

For those who had a personal relationship with Clam-digger and became a fan of her and her cute cubs - here's a higher resolution (2400 pixel) version of the Clam-digger Family for your personal use:

A Tribute to the Good Mom. Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 340 KB)


1. This image - in all resolutions - is protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of it (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 images on this website, the subject is fully wild and completely unconstrained. Besides the potential impact of my 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).

3. This image was captured during one of my "Grizzlies of the Khutzeymateen" photo tour in the spring of 2014. 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.

Behind the Camera

A Tribute to the Good Mom. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast (Great Bear Rainforest), Canada. May 29, 2014.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 2200.

Nikon D4 paired with Nikkor AF-S 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 VR @ 240mm - hand-held from floating Zodiac. VR on in Active mode.

1/500s @ f9; -0.33 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

A Tribute to the Good Mom. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast (Great Bear Rainforest), Canada. May 29, 2014.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening using Phase One's Capture One Pro. Three raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, differing by a total of 0.5 stops in exposure.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the three output files from the raw converter, additional minor exposure and contrast tweaks, and selective sharpening for web output. Final tweaking of tones performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" and zonemapper tools.


A Tribute to the Good Mom. Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary, northern BC coast (Great Bear Rainforest), Canada. May 29, 2014.

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 these bears reside in BC, there's a very real chance that their lives will be ended by a bullet. And, their heads and paws will be cut off (leaving their carcasses 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 these fearsome beasts).

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