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VIDEO - Porthtowan photographer's terrifying encounter with grizzly bears

By bevcoumbe  |  Posted: July 19, 2013


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A Porthtowan photographer had a terrifying encounter with grizzly bears during an expedition in Alaska.

Andy Hughes was with a team of artists and researchers on board the research vessel, Norseman for a seven-day sail along the remote coasts of Kodiak Island and the upper Aleutian islands.

He was on the secluded coastline when he came face to face with a male grizzly. Soon after a mother with her three cubs also turned up.

Frozen in fright, Mr Hughes said it was the most amazing experience of his life, saying: “We were exploring the region when a male grizzly appeared about 40ft away from us. An hour later a female grizzly and her cubs sat just 15 ft away from where we were standing.

“She stayed for 30 minutes. I was terrified. We were told to stand perfectly still. We had four rangers with us. It was the first time that they had ever seen a mum with cubs come so close to humans.”

Following the encounter Mr Hughes realised that the only form of protection the rangers were permitted to carry were pepper spray canisters to ward off the bears in case of an attack.

He added: "The rangers are not allowed to carry guns in the Katmai National Park. They had pepper spray, but we were not aware of that at the time. I can understand why guns are not allowed, they do not want people hunting or going into the region and endangering the animals."

The experience was captured on camera and is to feature in a new film by the National Geographic which followed the week-long expedition.

“I managed to get a couple of shots, without moving my camera, which was by my hip. When the grizzly left I was so relieved to be alive that I burst into tears along with an Inuit artist standing next to me.

“It was such an unexpected experience. They are extremely dangerous and powerful animals.”

As well as close encounters with bears Mr Hughes, who joined the team to study the impact of man-made waste on the wild coastline, saw bald eagles, sea otters and a humpback whale.

“We were in a boat travelling towards the shore when we heard a noise, like a large blowing sound, we then saw the whale which was turning in the water.”

He was also surprised to learn that tiny humming birds also live on the islands.

A lecturer in photography at Truro College, he has also published his own images of rubbish washed up on shores in Britain and America, called Dominant Wave Theory.

He said it was shocking to see so much debris along the remote Alaskan islands, adding: “I have photographed waste in the Caribbean and pacific ocean, but I didn’t expect to see so much junk in Alaska. It was on every beach we explored.

“Two thirds of it seemed to come from the fishing industry. We found fishing nets, buoys, and hundreds of plastic fly swatters. We think these must have come from a shipping container that had fallen overboard. I felt solemn at the sight of all the rubbish, which local animals are ingesting. It was a very humbling experience because of the impact we are having in such a vast area.”

Mr Hughes work goes on show at an Anchorage Museum exhibition later in the year and a tour across America by the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Centre to highlight the issue.

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