The ice grizzlies of Yukon: Photographer captures stunning photos of bears in the wild

·3 min read
Mather said he loves the challenge of capturing the perfect photo and usually gets one good shot for every six months in the field. (Peter Mather - image credit)
Mather said he loves the challenge of capturing the perfect photo and usually gets one good shot for every six months in the field. (Peter Mather - image credit)

An award-winning Yukon photographer is capturing a phenomenon he's calling the ice grizzlies.

For the last two years, Peter Mather has been using remote camera traps, capturing photos of grizzlies fishing for salmon in southwestern Yukon, right up to December.

"You know they are fishing for salmon, so they go into the water and it's cold, –20, –30," Mather said.

"When they come out of the water, the water freezes to their fur. After a couple of days of that, they are walking around and maybe have 200 icicles hanging from their fur and so when they walk it actually sounds like chandeliers."

Peter Mather
Peter Mather

Mather uses 12 camera traps set up around the creeks that lead to Klukshu Lake, an area where the grizzlies can feast on late runs of coho salmon who make the journey from Alaska to the Yukon.

Camera traps take a photo automatically when an animal is detected. They are used to capture images with as little human interference as possible.

Mather said for two years, he has spent October, November and most of December around Klukshu village, a traditional salmon harvesting spot in the summer months for the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.

He said the only noise he could hear at night were the sounds of wolves howling in the distance.

"You know, you would miss your family, I would come up maybe five days a week and I would live in a trailer … and its dark 19 hours a day so you are in that trailer a lot and it gets a little depressing after a while," Mather said.

Despite that, he said he loves the challenge of capturing the perfect photo and usually gets one good shot for every six months in the field.

Submitted by Peter Mather
Submitted by Peter Mather

Delayed hibernation due to climate change, says elder

Chuck Hume is an elder with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations. As a child, he grew up in Dalton Post and in the Klukshu area in the Yukon. He thinks bears are hibernating later in the season because of climate change and low salmon runs in the summer.

"It just started lately that they are staying out longer for some reason," Hume said.

"The season seems to be getting dryer and there are fewer berries and feed up in the high country, and so the grizzlies are more frequently up and down the creek."

Peter Mather
Peter Mather

Frozen fish sticks

Mather has come across some rather peculiar moments over his time outdoors, including one bear who had an interesting way of eating salmon.

"He would catch the salmon, throw them onshore and let them freeze and go and nap for four hours. Then he would come back and have these frozen salmon … like frozen fish sticks." Mather said.

Mather has noticed grizzlies usually don't eat the salmon heads, but the wolves and other predators usually find them on the shore for an easy meal.

This year Mather was also able to capture photos of wolves fishing for salmon.

"It was neat to watch the wolves fish too because they stand ten feet of the creek looking for a salmon and then if they see a salmon they sprint down and grab it really quickly," Mather said.

To see more of Peter's stories, follow him on Instagram.

Peter Mather
Peter Mather
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