Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Keeping A Snout Out For His Buddies

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In the Field

Keeping A Snout Out For His Buddies. Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast). October 8, 2008.

I managed to catch this large, sub-adult male grizzly checking the air for scents - almost as though it was his turn to act as sentry for his pack-mates.

This pack of grizzlies...hey - wait a minute! Aren't most bears solitary animals? Aren't the only cohesive groups you see normally just mother and cub(s)? Yep - right on both accounts. But we ran into this odd assemblage of 4 bears (only 3 are pictured here) in October of 2008 in the Great Bear Rainforest. The group consisted of a large, dark, subadult male with a distinctive blondish face (who, more often than not, appeared to be leading the group), two mid-sized dark bears (that looked like siblings), and a fourth much smaller dark bear - the runt of the group. While we only positively identified the sex of the largest bear, the two mid-sized bears appeared to be females. This wasn't a loose assemblage that just happened to be in the same vicinity at the same time - they moved as a group and stayed very close together. Moreover, there seemed to be a distinct pecking order in the group with the large male initiating movement from one area to another. In fact, on one occasion the group chose to move past us at very close proximity and one of the four balked at passing us so close. Immediately the lead bear turned and snorted/chuffed at the reluctant bear and more-or-less drove it by us. We saw this pack (flock? gaggle? swarm? covey?) of bears for two consecutive days...then all four bears were gone.

So what was up with this assemblage of grizzlies? It's impossible to say with any degree certainty, but one possible explanation is that the group formed as a defensive strategy against potential predators. This is a common reason that many ungulates form herds - the more eyes (or noses) to detect potential predators the better. But what predators would these bears be worried about? In the autumn of 2008 the salmon run failed to materialize in many of the drainages on the northern BC coast, and the bears were almost frantically seeking out alternate food sources (to help them acquire the nutrients they needed to fatten up for hibernation). On two instances we found evidence of grizzly bears killing and consuming black bears, and it's entirely possible that the very large male grizzlies were also willing to hunt smaller conspecifics (male grizzlies killing and eating grizzly cubs has been well-documented). Perhaps these 4 bears grouped up to help one another detect and collectively dissuade big hungry males. We half-jokingly wondered if, as the 4 bears in the "pack" grew increasingly hungry themselves, the runt's days were numbered and our pack would shrink by one.

I shot this image with a long telephoto lens and, like whenever using this lens, the biggest challenge is controlling the depth of field (zone of sharp focus). I rarely like images that have 3 bands of focus - blurred foreground, sharp subject, and blurred background (to me these "banded" images scream "long telephoto" so loudly they detract from the image and don't even come close to replicating how we see). In this instance I chose to place the main subject in the foreground to avoid the "bands of focus" problem.

Behind the Camera

Keeping A Snout Out For His Buddies. Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast). October 8, 2008.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 400.

Nikon D700 with AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4G IF-ED II VR lenssupported on Gitzo 1348 carbon fibre tripod with Wimberley head. VR turned to "On" and in "Tripod" mode. Autofocus set to M/a mode.

1/160s @ f5; -0.33 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Keeping A Snout Out For His Buddies. Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast). October 8, 2008.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF, including first-pass/capture sharpening, white balance adjustment and slight shadow recovery adjustment using Phase One's Capture One Pro 4.5. Multiple RAW conversions (3 at different exposure settings: 0 stops for as base exposure; +.24 stops for bears; +.67 stops for shaded portions of bear).

Further digital corrections on 16-bit TIFF file using Adobe's Photoshop CS4. Adjustments included compositing and masking of 3 exposure versions, selective curves adjustment and selective sharpening for web output.


Keeping A Snout Out For His Buddies. Great Bear Rainforest (northern BC coast). October 8, 2008.

Ten percent of the revenue generated by this image will be donated to The Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

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. 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.

For more information on the status of Brown (Grizzly) Bears in Canada, go to: and search under "Grizzly Bears"

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