As Canada’s first and only grizzly sanctuary, B.C.'s Khutzeymateen Provincial Park is a treasure trove of photographic opportunity. Although no one’s allowed to set foot in the park, water-based tourism gives photographers the rare chance to see bears in a nearly pristine environment.
Michelle Valberg is an Ottawa-based wildlife and landscape photographer. Here, she talks about her experience photographing bears in this special place.
How did you capture these remarkable photos?
Many of my photographer friends had recommended OceanLight11 for their tours to the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary. Base camp was their 71ft Ketch rigged sailboat. Each day we would board our zodiacs and go deep into the estuary to find these beautiful creatures. I took thousands of images.
What was it like to photograph in the park?
I am always amazed at the beauty of our own country. Canada has all these hidden gems and the Khutzeymateen is no exception. Serene and lush, this extraordinary environment is captivating. Add in the wildlife like eagles flying about and grizzly bears silhouetted against awe-inspiring mountains, it doesn't get more picture perfect than this.
Does any particular experience stick out in your mind as especially extraordinary?
Nearing our last hours on our last day, the rain began to lightly fall. We were photographing a female grizzly and her adorable cubs when a male bear started his approach from the water. The family immediately went off into the woods, and our guide repositioned our zodiac to watch the large grizzly clamber up a fallen tree and settle in for a nap. Each time he moved we clicked feverishly, in the hopes we’d get that ‘ah-ha’ shot. Finally, the bear cuddled up to the tree, heathed his claws, relaxed his powerful body and gazed at us with sleepy eyes. The raindrops in the background were an added bonus and right then, I knew I had taken one of my favourite images.
How would you describe your photography style?
I watch wildlife behaviour and anticipate action as much as I can. With every image I take, I try to convey a story with the hopes I can captivate the viewer. It requires a great deal of patience (which I have to work hard at) and a watchful eye.
What did you learn from your time in Khutzymateen?
I learned how important the area is. Jenn Broom, the owner of the Ocean Light II, is concerned that this wonderful wildlife sanctuary may be threatened, and told me the Khutzeymateen is under pressure from industry and trophy hunters.
Photos by Michelle Valberg: