"Bear Viewing Tours -- See Bears In Their Native Habitat -- 87% Chance of Seeing Bears!!!!"
My reaction to a sign like that is to ask whether they are willing to give me an 87% refund if we don't see a bear.
I love the wording -- "Bear Viewing" -- hmm... that implies we can go to some secluded walkway deep in the forest and watch a bunch of bears who are plucking salmon out of mid-air, or standing around posing for tourists. I've seen the ads, but despite having traveled all over Alaska, and having seen an awful lot of bears (and photographed a few of them), I have never seen any place like that. I doubt anywhere like that actually exists; outside a zoo.
I have seen those videos of bunches of tourists watching bears fishing right in front of them. I have even seen videos like that from here in Ketchikan. Heck, I've even taken a couple of videos like that myself:
But I warn you, such videos are deceptive. They seem to imply that the bears are just hanging around the streams waiting for tourists to show up and take pictures. That is not the case. Whether you see bears, anywhere, depends on a number of factors: The weather, the tide, the time of day, the temperature, and the mood of the bears. It also depends on the amount of time you spend standing or sitting quietly, watching the scenery. I have seen more bears in my backyard than anywhere else in Alaska, mainly because I spend more time there.
And here in Ketchikan, the last really important thing that determines where and when you are likely to see a bear is whether the salmon are running. When the salmon start running, all the bears leave my backyard and go down to the Salmon streams. By July 30th we can be fairly confident the salmon will be running -- but I can not even guarantee that! -- Because the water in the Pacific has been warming up, and because we have been getting much less rain, our salmon have been running later and later each year. They were here by mid-July last year.
I never guarantee, or even give a percentage, on seeing bears. The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft agley : wildlife often refuses to cooperate with the plans of humans, and I do not want to jinx our chances. Just plan on having a fun tour, seeing the sites and scenery, and if we see bears, it will be a fantastic bonus.
Forgive my superstition about this, but note the following review by someone who asked me repeatedly to give her a percentage chance of seeing a bear, and I repeatedly refused! She booked the tour anyway, and later this is what she wrote:
Maryann Stanger United States
Tour: #334466, Ketchikan - A wee place for MaryAnn & Hubby Date: Sep 14/18
#1 request... SEE A BEAR! With no guarantee from him, we hooked up anyway. What a day we had. We saw a mama bear and her cub, then we saw 3 bears, you know, THE 3 BEARS! Papa, mama and baby bear. So so cool! Then we ate crab and more crab and more until I couldn't take another bite. Our rain forest hike was off the beaten track and so unbelievably gorgeous. We finished the day at a local art project. We watched locals paint real dead fish!!! Then make artistic bags. Great private tour and guide!
TOUR GUIDE RESPONSE: Thank you Maryann, it was my pleasure to show you and your husband a wee bit of Ketchikan and our lives. Despite my refusal to give you any guarantees of seeing a bear; I was delighted and relieved when we saw some (knowing how much you wanted to see one). So the day was fulfilled for me right there, and the rest was a bonus!
Note that it was not all just luck -- this tour was an all day tour, so we had time to really look for bears, and check back on bear areas. Still, we were also lucky. Mostly though, I have included it here as an example of someone having a great attitude towards the tour. Then, if you do see bears, it is the icing on the cake.