Bear cub saved from river — Fisherman pushes cub out of eddy, back to mama

By Joseph Robertia

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A brown bear sow fishes for salmon on the upper Kenai River. This weekend, a sow with two cubs nearly lost one of her offspring in a whirlpool in the upper river, but Mike Polocz, of Soldotna, intervened to save the young bear’s life.

Redoubt Reporter

Mike Polocz, of Soldotna, was hoping to commune with nature when he made the decision to float the upper Kenai River last weekend. He never expected his commune to be such an intense experience.

“I’ve been on many fishing and hunting trips in my life and I’ve never experienced anything like this,” he said.

Polocz, owner of Alaska H20s Pros, was hoping for a fun weekend away from work, but with the bag limit for sockeye salmon being liberalized to double the normal harvest, he wasn’t interested in being among the big crowds of combat fishermen that had come to catch them. He wanted to do something a little less stressful and more serene, so he decided to target trout with his son and a family friend.

“We had put in at Jim’s Landing, and had just gotten through the final set of rapids when we noticed a brown bear sow and her cubs fishing for reds,” Polocz said. “As we got a closer look, though, one of the cubs wasn’t fishing. It was stuck in a whirlpool and drowning.”

The mama bruin — which Polocz said was a behemoth of a bear — wasn’t far away, but he said he felt compelled to help the cub. It looked to be about 4 to 6 months old, less than 50 pounds, cinnamon-colored and was shrieking an ear-splitting, teeth-grinding, terror-stricken racket as it swirled in the foaming whitewater just yards away from his boat.

“I was so close I could look into its eyes and they were wide open and filled with just sheer terror. I couldn’t watch this defenseless animal suffer. I was ready to go in after it if it went under,” he said.

But the bear did not fully submerge. Instead, with his son steering the boat, Polocz used the rim of a landing net to try to push the cub out of the current holding it in place. This, however, was more difficult that it seemed, due to the tiny bruin’s desperation.

“He was so physically exhausted and distressed that when I put the net near him, he tried to climb into it. I wanted to save him, but I didn’t want that. If it got in the net, I knew we would have to get him in the boat and possibly commit to physically putting him on shore, and that seemed way too risky,” he said.

For about 10 to 15 minutes, Polocz did his best to push and prod the cub to the safety of slower-moving water. Just as it seemed the cub was on the verge of complete exhaustion, Polocz got in a lucky poke.

“I gave him one last nudge with the net and he broke out of the eddy,” he said.

The cub wearily paddled to shore and climbed out of the water. Once on dry land it gave out another loud cry. The sow locked onto the sound and came crashing through the woods to reunite with her offspring. Polocz said it was an emotional moment for everyone watching.

“There were three pretty tough guys in the boat, and there wasn’t a dry eye among us,” he said.

What particularly moved Polocz was how serendipitous it was that the whole incident transpired when it did.

“I’ve never been on that river and not seen several boats, but we were the only people on the water that day. We didn’t see another person, and I honestly think if we had come by five minutes earlier we wouldn’t have seen a thing, and had we come by five minutes later, that cub would have been drowned,” he said.

Polocz’s friend captured much of the incident on his iPhone, but it cut out just before they finally got the bear to safety. Still, they uploaded what they had to YouTube, and he said the footage they got is an amazing reminder of a float trip none of them will ever forget.

As to what the bear may have taken away from the incident, Polocz said he hopes it learned to steer clear of that particular area.

“I’d like to think he’ll be eating berries, rather than fish, at least for a while,” he said.

The YouTube clip can be found at http://www.youtube.com by searching for “Kenai River Bear Cub Rescue.”

Representatives from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game were not available for comment by the Redoubt Reporter’s press deadline.

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43 Comments

Filed under bears

43 responses to “Bear cub saved from river — Fisherman pushes cub out of eddy, back to mama

  1. My son Dustin and Charles Mettile were in the boat with me that day and it was a total team effort on saving this little guy. Charles has lived here over 30 years and said he had never witnessed anything like it. If anyone has trouble finding the video, you can see it on my face book or email me at mikepolocz@yahoo.com.

    • Jeremy

      Thank you!!

    • Charlie

      It was a pleasure being a part of that adventure with you and Dustin, Mike.
      With all the bad news in the world it is nice to see a happy story with a happy ending. I know I will never see anything in my lifetime like that again. Charlie Mettille

    • Doris

      What Savior’s you & your son are!! That was a wonderful story. Sure wished that Iphone had a longer video time tho. I bet that happy reunion was a sight to see. I also bet that lil guy will sleep like a log tonight!

  2. Wow, great story guys. With all the bear shootings in AK because of people leaving their trash out, it’s nice to read a good bear story for a change. Thanks for your efforts.

  3. K.C.

    Thank goodness for the kind hearts being in the right place at the right time! So wonderful to see this – bless you!

  4. Way to go, Mike! As an avid fisherman/Hunter myself, I applaud your efforts to save this little bear! Good on ya!

    Scott Simpson
    Anchorage

  5. Barbara Perry

    Bravo…Thrilled that your efforts led to success. One story for your family to pass on through the generations. You get a bear pass for the rest of your life!

  6. Tammy

    What a great story Mike….I’ve heard that heart wrenching bawl before by cubs that were lost or in danger…. it breaks my heart! Glad this had a happy ending…thanks to you all : )

    • Thank you for the kind words. I can honestly say as far as emotions are concerned this is up there with the birth of my son and being able to be on the field at soldier field delivering the worlds largest American flag during the national anthem. First football game after 9/11

  7. Great story! So glad you took the effort to save the cub! What heart wrenching cries!

  8. Heather Swanson

    Thank you Mike, Dustin, and Charles!

  9. Robin Abramson

    Thank You, Mike, Dustin and Charles for your heroic and compassionate actions to save this terrified little cub. All to often we hear stories of callous disregard for the lives of animals and it is reassuring indeed to see your dedication to save this little guy from certain drowning. The screams are gut-wrenching and it is so nice to know you saw the cub reach shore and reunite with its mother. Sure wish video had captured that for all to see–but it is enugh to know it happened–and sure glad you 3 got to see the reward of your efforts. Inspirational and heart-warming. Good Work, Guys. Thank You!

  10. Pingback: Kenai River Bear Cub Rescue! : The Mudflats

  11. Cindy

    Way to go Mike, Dustin and Charlie – Bravo! You all did the right thing by helping this little guy. I’m proud to say I know you!

  12. glenda

    This was such an awesome and heroic act of man, so often you hear or see man taking the life of a bear not saving it.Bless you

  13. Tracy

    Wow!! What a wonderful rescue. I have so much admiration for you all.

  14. Carmion Fuhrman

    Great job! It must have been so tough not to just grab him and pull him aboard. So good to see truly caring people helping animals like this. Kudos!

  15. Sue

    Heart warming!! – I watched the video and applaud you all for staying composed and logical (I could barely watch sitting in the comfort of my home – so I can only imagine how it was for you!). Thanks for your bravery and patience!

  16. flyboy2

    Right on, good work. Karma comes back. Maybe this cub will grow to a Kenai bear that respects the driftboat and fishermen as allies on the river!

  17. Betty McIntosh

    What a great Alaskan story for everyone all around to be told. From the Momma bear and baby bear to you folks that just happened to stumble onto the guy!!!! ;D Thanks for sharing!!!!

  18. Arlene Jasper

    What a great story…you did the right thing…hearing that cub bawl and the fear…brought tears to my eyes as well….you and your sons will never forget this! So nice to hear about a bear rescue rather than another bear shot.
    Thank you!

  19. Lisa

    Most heartwarming story I have heard in a long time. Thank you for having the fortitude and wherewithal to accomplish this rescue. Surely Mother Nature will smile upon you all for a long time to come. :)

  20. Applause Applause THANK YOU!

  21. Henderson

    Thank YOU!!!!! The little guy was scared and his hero’s came along to rescue him. Thanks Guys for sharing this with us.

  22. Celeste

    I just happened across this story in preparation for vacation I am taking with my family to Alaska. What a wonderful testiment to the goodness of people. I look forward to sharing this story with my family and enjoying the beauty of your state. Thank you for doing the right thing.

  23. Monica V

    Love this story. You guys are true heros! The video was so intense, and I wish i got to see the reuniting part of the video with the mama bear!

    Thanks for sharing!!!

  24. Janelle Robinson

    Oh, so nice to see we still have true heroes. Yes, the reuniting with mamma bear would have got you an oscar medal!

  25. Deb H

    Totally awesome Mike! Thanks for sharing your great big heart with our wildlife! Absolutely LOVE this!

  26. Nature & Animal Lover

    SO INSPIRING to see & hear about! Thank You Mike, Thank You Dustin & Thank You Charlie! I’m speechless, touched & (yes) crying to know that there are still truly compassionate men ((women,children – humans)) like you out there… All the very best to you & yours! The universe will return your heroism three-fold!!!!!

  27. Respect4Life

    It’s good to know there are some people out there that still care about life both big and small. God intended us to watch over his creatures, not destroy them, and your actions truly exemplify his love.

  28. The guy with the Droid was Charlie Mettille from Scottsdale, AZ. It was the most exciting fishing trip in his life. Some of the people listening to the bear thought it was the guys yelling “bear, bear” but that was the cry of the bear for “help, help”! Great story and great experience, saving the bear.

  29. Wildlife Lover

    What a beautiful story. Thank you for helping save that cub, you are all amazing people.

  30. Tom

    Thank you so much. God bless you. :)

  31. Saunge

    An amazing story. What a great read to start the day!

  32. Dan Schechter

    How amazing that we live in a time when a lot of people carry little video cams (the phone) AND the videos can be uploaded and seen by everyone! And how refreshing that this is not war footage. Well done, guys!!

  33. Steve Wright

    8/4/12 WOW ! What a Tear Jerker of a Story !
    Makes Ya Proud to be a ALASKAN !

    A Real Life story of a Human helping & Saving the LIfe of a Bear Cub.

    SPW in Soldotna,Alaska

  34. Gosh!!! I just bawled my eyes out!!! Poor lil cub was so scared:-( So proud to hear of a rescue versus a killing. Thank you from my heart!!

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