Two guides mauled by a sow brown bear as they led a large hiking group from a cruise ship in Southeast reportedly encountered the bear and a cub at close range, state officials said Friday.
Sarah Scoltock, a spokesperson with cruise operator UnCruise Adventures, said Friday the guides were mauled on Sitkoh Creek Trail on Chichagof Island, about 30 miles north of Sitka. A male guide was treated and released in Sitka, and a female guide was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where she is in serious condition, according to a nursing supervisor.
Troopers spokesperson Tim Despain said in an email Friday the group of 22 passengers, from the Wilderness Explorer, were being led by two UnCruise employees acting as guides. The male victim reported the bears were first seen at a range of 6 to 7 feet.
"Reports indicate that there was a cub and that initially the group found itself with (the) cub on one side and mom on the other side of the group," Despain wrote. "Report was that the sow initially bluffed-charged and then made a real charge."
The woman was mauled first, Despain said. The man was injured moments later when he deployed bear spray against the sow.
"He went up with bear spray and was bit before the bear ran off," Despain said. "He was bit in the leg or mauled in the leg — her injuries were substantially worse."
Tom Schumacher, a Juneau-based management coordinator with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said biologists haven't yet spoken with anyone who witnessed the attack. No plans have been made for biologists or troopers to find or kill the sow, however, because its actions suggest defensive rather than predatory motives in the mauling.
"It sounds like a bear doing what bears do," Schumacher said. "From what we've heard so far, it sounds like a defensive situation, and it sounds like a group of people in the wrong place at the wrong time."
An UnCruise medical team hiked 2 1/2 miles up the trail to the mauling site to initially treat the guides and escort the passengers back, Scoltock said. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew responded, hoisting the guides on board and flying them to Sitka for further treatment.
The guides' names were being withheld pending notification of their families.
On Friday, the ship and passengers were proceeding along the Inside Passage, making a planned stop at Magoun Islands State Marine Park about 12 miles northwest of Sitka.
"As of this moment, they are continuing on their trip," Scoltock said. "Everyone seems to be supporting each other and doing well on board."
The injured guides were both carrying bear spray but no firearms, Scoltock said. She said no decision had been made on whether to recommend or require that guides carry guns on future outings.
"It's too early for me to answer that question yet," Scoltock said. "As you can imagine, we will learn what we can from this incident and review our procedure for hiking on any trails."