The Spirit Bear

(italicized text is an excerpt from the August issue of National Geographic magazine, available on newsstands July 26)

Neither albino nor polar bear, the spirit bear (also known as the Kermode bear) is a white variant of the North American black bear, and it’s found almost exclusively here in the Great Bear Rainforest. At 25,000 square miles—one and a half times as big as Switzerland—the region runs 250 miles down Canada’s western coast and encompasses a vast network of mist-shrouded fjords, densely forested islands, and glacier-capped mountains. Grizzlies, black bears, wolves, wolverines, humpback whales, and orcas thrive along a coast that has been home to First Nations like the Gitga’at for hundreds of generations.

Researchers have recently proved that the spirit bear’s white coat gives it an advantage when fishing. Although white and black bears tend to have the same success rate after dark—when bears do a lot of their fishing—scientists Reimchen and Dan Klinka from the University of Victoria noticed a difference during the daytime. White bears catch salmon in one-third of their attempts. Black individuals are successful only one-quarter of the time. “The salmon are less concerned about a white object as seen from below the surface,” Reimchen speculates.

These bears have made some headlines lately.  Last September, WILD’s close affiliates at the International League of Conservation Photographers embarked on a Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition (RAVE) in the Great Bear Rainforest.  The 14-day expedition called upon 7 world-renowned photographers and 3 videographers to thoroughly document the region’s landscapes, wildlife, and culture. The RAVE provided media support to the First Nations and environmental groups seeking to stop the proposed Enbridge Gateway pipeline project (and thus expansion of the tar sands) and to expose the plan to lift the oil tanker ship moratorium.

Our colleague Simon Jackson has dedicated his early career to the protection of the spirit bear.  Through the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition, the largest youth-lead environmental organization in the world, Simon has brought together young leaders from around the world around this charismatic and highly threatened bear.

And, Bruce Barcott and Paul Nicklen recently wrote and photographed (respectively) a feature article on the spirit bear for this month’s National Geographic magazine.  The beautiful written text gives life to the bears and the photographs leave any wanderlust traveler with a desire to see one in person.   Read about the Spirit Bear in National Geographic >

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