A video of tourists taking selfies with a black bear eating salmon on the side of the Campbell River and even attempting to touch the bear has garnered a lot of attention.
And the coordinator of a group attempting to educate the public about bear and human interactions says the incident illustrates the disconnect people have with the natural environment and the danger it puts themselves and wildlife in.
“It is a scary situation,” Lorna Seldon Burd, coordinator of Wild Wise Society Campbell River, said about the video. “As a few people noted, our ‘selfie generation’ can put themselves in great danger and, in turn, end the bear’s life.”
Posted on Instagram and shot in September during the late summer salmon run on the Campbell River, the video shows a group of people who appear to have been fishing on a beach on the river.
The bear is eating a salmon at the edge of the water and members of the group attempt to take selfies with it crouching only a few feet away. One person actually attempts to touch the bear on the back as it eats. The bear, for the most part, seems uninterested in the people until it snaps at the male who attempts to touch it on the back. The person jumps back and runs a few feet away.
The encounter is shot from the Campbell River logging bridge above the scene with the bear. People behind the camera shout at the group, one person saying, “Dude, don’t touch the bear. Are you f***ing kidding me, man?”
The poster of the Instagram video, identified as bl00k_, commented “Darwin Award Nomination 2023.” The poster adds “PSA: Leave wildlife alone.”
Burd agrees with that. Black Bears are apex predators but are opportunistic feeders eating a range of food sources throughout the spring and summer. However, come fall, the bears’ drive to pack on calories to carry them through the winter becomes more pressing as the fall approaches. Salmon provide their highest caloric input, Burd said.
“They need the calories – that is why that black bear in the video is so blatantly feeding in front of humans,” she said. “He or she knows that they have no other choice. Humans are in their traditional hunting grounds and in order for them to survive the winter, they need to pack on the calories, no matter who is taking selfies. That bear has its life at stake.”
Many people move to or visit Campbell River because of the forest trails and proximity to wilderness. The Campbell River and its tributary, the Quinsam River, have intact ecosystems where nature is still running the way it should be – salmon spawning, gulls, eagles and bears feasting on their bodies. The whole river and forest ecosystem is fueled by the salmon.
Burd said Campbell Riverites are lucky to have this but the community could do more to educate the public about what is going on around the river.
“What is missing here is that we, as Campbell River residents, enjoy, but many do not recognize is, what an absolute treasure we have on our doorstep,” Burd said. “Here we simply let tourists take selfies. There is no information for tourists or residents to educate themselves on what is playing out in front of their eyes. There is no respect and no reverence for the ‘Garden of Eden’ situation that we have here.
“Campbell River is a tourism destination, based on our wealth of wildlife viewing, salmon fishing and access to wilderness, yet we have almost zero information for tourists and even new residents to Campbell River about how to live in bear country. It is time that we invested in bear proof garbage bins and information signs where our natural habitats occur.”
Burd offers some bear basics:
- When you walk trails in bear areas, keep your dog on a leash (dogs smell like predators to bears and they cause fear which leads to disrupted activity and unnecessary loss of calories if they chase a bear or it’s cubs). Dogs off leash often also (unbeknownst to their owners) chase deer fawns… who then never find their parents again.
- If you come across a black bear, give it space. Slowly move backwards, talk calmly and let it know that you are leaving the area. Seriously, leave the area. That bear needs to fish, eat, repeat, until it goes into hibernation.
- If you come across a bear and it stands on its hind legs, this means that it is taking a better look and smell of the situation before making a judgment call. Back away slowly and speak in a calm voice.