By Hannah Stevens @Hannahshewans
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Videographer / director: Daniel Wise
Producer: Hannah Stevens, Ruby Coote
Editor: Dan Cousins
Home to the largest concentration of grizzly bears in the world, bears of all ages congregate on the McNeil River between June and August to feed on the salmon travelling upstream to spawn.
After applying twice through a lottery system, Daniel Wise got the chance to witness the feeding frenzy up-close on the 200 square mile protected McNeil River State Sanctuary.
Despite the large number of bears surrounding him, the 26-year-old never once felt threatened by their presence.
He said: “I felt fine being that close to the bears. I never felt scared that I was going to get attacked by one. I knew that this programme had run for decades and no one had ever been attacked.
“I knew that any of those bears could maul me at any time but I knew that if I did what the guides told me to do, I would be completely fine.”
No more than ten individuals at a time are permitted at the viewing locations and visitors must follow strict rules laid out by the guides.
Daniel said: “The guides led the hike to the viewing site and if we came across a bear we would get very close to each other, making a very big object from the bears point of view and we would walk carefully until we passed the bear.
“At the viewing site we would sit in folding chairs and if a bear approached us we would all have to stand up together and wait for the bear to walk back to the river.”
Even though the bears were aware of the group, they paid little to no attention to their captive audience.
Daniel continued: “We did not have to stay silent while watching the bears. No one ever made too much noise but we could talk using our regular conversation voices.
“If the bears heard us they didn’t seem to mind us at all. They seemed to be too focussed on watching fish to pay any attention to what we were doing.
“Every once in a while one would lift its head up and look our way but then it would go back to whatever it was doing.
“Most of the time they would just carry a fish behind us to eat, keeping it away from some of the larger bears that might steal it.”
All five species of Pacific salmon can be found in the McNeil River, but chum or dog salmon are the bears’ primary targets.
To reach the isolated sanctuary, Daniel flew in a float plane and could only take 265 lbs of weight with him - including his own body weight.
On the return flight, the pilot struggled to make it to their camp as there was almost zero visibility, but the capable pilot was able to fly the whole group back safely.
Daniel hopes that his photos will encourage others to see the majestic animals as more than just potential hunting trophies.
He said: “If you search on google 'Alaskan brown bear', a lot of the pictures you see are of hunters with rifles sitting next to a dead bear.
“I want people to know how much these bears have to do to make sure they are prepared for winter.
“I want people to see how much the mother takes care of raising her cubs by herself, by not only getting food for the cubs but also protecting them from larger male bears that might want to kill them.”