That evening we leave Kake and sail west to a little cove, too small to show a name on the map. I thought the landscape could not get any more spectacular, but here a huge cascade of water tumbles from halfway up the mountainside, into the sea. The falls are too far to hear, but the white foam shines across the bay in the fading evening light.
This is on the east coast of Baranov Island. As the eagle flies, we are only 10 miles due east of Sitka, but the land is so rugged, with glacier-capped peaks in between, that this side of the island is mostly uninhabited. There is only this little fish hatchery, with a handful of resident employees, at Hidden Falls. Our morning tour takes us to the hatchery.
At the mouth of the creek, brown bears fish for the running chum salmon. When you watch this video, you might think I just copied it from National Geographic. No, I was actually there, and that close. A professional would have recorded the moment when the mama bear caught the salmon to take to her cubs; I missed the moment of the catch as I panned the eagle.
We are told that these bears are gourmet eaters, taking only the roe and the brains, leaving the rest for the eagles and seagulls. All three species are plentiful here. Of course, the birds are perfectly capable of catching their own meals when the bears aren’t there to serve them.
Most of the bears are content to fish in the stream and ignore people, but one troublesome adolescent wants to come up to the hatchery grounds, where we stand watching. When I spot him, coming up behind the tour group, he’s only 30 yards away. I yell; the hatchery manager yells, and pulls out a flare gun! When the bear doesn’t retreat, the manager shoots fireworks (no bullets) from the gun to scare him off. (Sorry, no video of this–we were all busy!)
One more interesting bit: out in the cove, we see a lot of big fish jumping. These are not flying fish, but salmon. I imagine they are practicing the jumping skills they will need when they start upstream.