The Russian Far East has become synonymous with images of snow-covered terrain, but before the vast landscape is enveloped by winter each year, it harbours some of the lushest habitat in East Asia. With the Pacific to the East, and the Sea of Okhotsk to the West, the Kamchatka Peninsula is particularly vibrant: 100,000 square miles peppered with rushing rivers, dense forests and crystal-clear lakes.

During an expedition on the peninsula's Lake Kuril, wildlife photographer Mike Korostelev was able to capture incredible footage of a brown bear's underwater antics as it hunted sockeye salmon. The bear is one of hundreds that use these rich waters as an all-you-can-eat stopover in preparation for the harsh winter.

It might seem unusual that a brown bear would tolerate a human "diver" so nearby, but Korostelev explains that this close-encounter wasn't as risky as it appears. For starters, the footage was captured using a GoPro and monopod – not a handheld camera.

What's more, the bears that inhabit this freshwater caldera are usually too focused on snatching salmon to pay much heed to the occasional bipedal passerby. The area plays home to one of the largest salmon aggregations in the world. Each year, somewhere between two and six million of the crimson fish swim towards the lake – the final destination on their journey inland. It's no surprise, then, that many bears follow suit.

"The bears in this area are quite tolerant – they are not hungry and [are accustomed to] people," says Korostelev. 

Of course, interrupting a predator at mealtime is not something we would recommend, even if the situation seems safe. Kuril's wildlife is protected under jurisdiction of the South Kamchatka Federal Sanctuary, and Korostelev notes that he aims to ensure his interactions are as unintrusive as possible.

"This bear was the biggest in the area," he says. "It is exciting to work with such a large animal, of course. But in any case, it's still a wild animal. The bear had been fishing almost every day near one low bridge, so I just put a camera under the water near him." There was likely little danger in this particular situation, but it's best to err on the side of caution when your subject boasts four-inch (10cm) claws. 

Kamchatka's impressive salmon run attracts more than just ursine diners to the lake each year: white-tailed, golden and Stellar's sea eagles (among other birds) also flock to Kuril during late autumn, as do families of river otters and foxes who enjoy an endless buffet of red roe for months. The biodiversity hotspot has become something of bucket-list destination for photographers over the years.

While Korostelev traveled to Kuril with this particular capture in mind, he considers himself lucky to have pulled it off. "When you start any project with animals you never know what result ... you will finally get," he says. "That’s why I love wildlife photography. I hope people take a respect for animals, and for nature, away from my work."



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