On Camera for “Into Alaska”
We hope you’re enjoying weekly episodes of “Into Alaska,” the Animal Planet series featuring Kenai and Kodiak National Wildlife Refuges.
Among highlights so far:
- Thrilling up-close encounters with brown bears, moose and salmon
- Aerial views of spectacular landscapes reachable only by air, boat or foot
- A look at the courage and care involved in balancing the needs of wildlife and people at these special places.
The more you watch, the more questions may occur to you. Such as …
Just how big ARE Kodiak brown bears anyway?
No wonder Kodiak Refuge wildlife biologist William Leacock and interns Dustin Rose and Amber Robbins show respect when entering bear territory. Kodiak brown bears are among the world’s largest bears. A female, or sow, can weigh up to 650 pounds. A male can top 1,200 pounds and stand over 10 feet high on its hind legs.
What’s big and brown and loves salmon? See a Kodiak brown bear FAQ
Where exactly are Kenai and Kodiak Refuges?The map shows the refuges’ location in south Alaska. To zoom in, double click anywhere or use buttons on upper left. To learn more about a refuge, click on the dot next to the refuge name; a pop-up should appear with a link to the refuge website.
What other wildlife is there to see at Kodiak and Kenai Refuges?
Kenai Refuge wildlife includes moose, lynx, wolves and trumpeter swans.
Kodiak Refuge wildlife includes river otters, red fox and little brown bats. You can also see puffins and several species of sea duck along the refuge’s coastline.
Kodiak Refuge wildlife and habitat
Kenai Refuge wildlife and habitat
And don’t forget the beautiful salmon at both refuges.
The people featured in “Into Alaska” — officers Rob Barto and Chris Johnson at Kenai Refuge and biologist William Leacock at Kodiak Refuge and biology interns Laura Bashor and Amber Robbins – show such dedication and love for the natural resources around them. They are extraordinary.
We think so, too.
Did refuge staff enjoy being filmed?
They did! “It was a great experience,” says Johnson. “It gave me a nice platform to share what I get to do every day, give insight into the natural wonders of the Refuge System, in particular the Kenai Refuge…The crew at [producer] InventTV were great. The film crews were professional and easy to work with.”
Leacock agrees, “I really enjoyed introducing the cameraman and on-site producer to the refuge; to the wonders of the Kodiak landscape; especially the bears and salmon that make this place such a world treasure. It was genuinely beautiful seeing the awe in their eyes…”
Which isn’t to say that there were no frustrations.
Time pressure, for one. “I wanted to give them an opportunity to … glimpse into the hearts and minds of bears so that this could be portrayed in the series,” says Leacock. “To do so requires days upon days of sitting for hours and hours (oftentimes in rather harsh weather) waiting for bears to show up and go about their business… But they had a very limited time schedule.”
Says Barto, “The annoying stuff was the multiple takes of me walking out the door to my truck, different angles and what not. The setup on the days they rode with me took a while. That got old quickly.”
Did any funny stories come out of their experience?
William Leacock recalls:
“One time we were headed up to Canyon Creek to service our wildlife cams. …I was in the lead. Dustin [intern Dustin Rose] was bringing up the rear. The two Animal Planet folks were between us. ... As we came around one bend, we saw a nice large fat [bear] sow on the opposite bank about 10 meters away.
“I slowly crouched behind a clump of grass and motioned for the rest of them to slowly get down and behind whatever vegetation was available… I’d gone over this procedure numerous times…how to move slowly, get down low, and behind something so as not to startle a bear and to help them feel we are not a threat.
“I heard a crash behind me. I looked back and saw legs and feet in the air. Dustin later told me that upon seeing the sow so close, the Animal Planet folks had dove into a gully behind a hummock of tall grass.
“I looked back at the sow. She wasn’t disturbed. It almost seemed like she shrugged her shoulders and shook her head as if to say, ‘What was that all about?’ She picked up a sockeye carcass, then continued on her way up Canyon looking for more fish. I had to smile.”
How can I see Kodiak bears in person?
Book a trip to Kodiak next summer. To start your planning, contact the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce or the refuge visitor center. Public use cabins are available for rent at www.Recreation.gov
How do I reserve a cabin at Kenai Refuge?
Book a stay at one of the refuge’s 16 public use cabins by visiting www.Recreation.gov.
For more specific trip planning needs, call the Kenai Refuge Visitor Center at 907-260-2820.
What makes Kodiak bears different from Kenai brown bears?
Geographic isolation. Brown bears on the Kodiak Archipelago have been cut off from other Alaska brown bears for about 10,000 years, and are considered a unique subspecies: Ursus arctos middendorffi.
Is a brown bear a grizzly?
Yup, they are one and the same species: Ursus arctos. In the interior, they’re called grizzlies. On the coast, brown bears. Coastal bears tend to be fatter, thanks to salmon in their diet.
I want to watch the show! Where can I catch remaining episodes in the series?
Tune in to Animal Planet Mondays at 10 p.m. Eastern Time and Alaska time, or check local listings. Find past episodes here. The 10-part series runs through December 24.