Standing 75 yards away from two Alaskan brown bears playing in a river, NMU biology graduate teaching assistant Rylee Jensen was able to snap an award-winning photo while she was working at Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park. The picture was entered into the PetaPixel photo competition and won the grand prize: a trip to the Galapagos Islands on the National Geographic Islander II and an OM System camera with two M. Zuiko lenses.
“This is the first major photo contest I've ever won, and definitely the craziest prize I've ever gotten,” Jensen said. “The Galápagos Islands is basically every photographer's Mecca because of all the endemic species. Hearing that I won was one of those surreal moments where pursuing photography as a career became more real to me, like ‘Wow, you actually made this happen!'”
This came after working at the Brooks Camp from 2019-2021 as a bear technician. Jensen said that her job was to “haze” bears out of camp everyday to keep people and bears apart. She also collected data on bear behavior and their reactions to visitors on a new bridge structure, did aerial surveys around the park for population counts, and camped in the backcountry to collect data for wolf, bat, ptarmigan, and human-bear research projects.
“In Brooks Camp, the rule is that everyone must keep a minimum distance of 50 yards away from bears, which sounds pretty jarring considering that places like Yellowstone and Denali have 100- and even 300-yard rules,” Jensen said. “Additionally, my job sometimes required me to get very close—I'm talking within 15 feet to bears—so I became very familiar with bear body language and gauging whether they were comfortable with me or not. Of course, this was only when I needed to shoo them away from chewing on cabins or walking around camp, so when I'm in the river or on the trail, I always yield to them and give them a wide berth to be respectful. This was a very calm situation where these two bears hardly noticed my presence at all.”
Jensen has photographed wildlife and landscapes in the U.S. and abroad. To see more of her talent via her online gallery, click here to go to her website.