Spirit bear on kelp bed, marked with salmon blood from a recent feed, Princess Royal Island, BC
We didn't see any spirit bears on our recent trip, so these are photos from my archives. These rare bears are much easier to see in the fall when they congregate on the salmon rivers to gorge before their winter hibernation.
The Kermode Bear (Ursus americanus kermodei) is called the spirit bear by the native tribes of the area, who have long revered and protected the bear and its habitat. It is a rare subspecies of the black bear that lives on Princess Royal Island and a small adjacent area, with a population of around 400 animals. It is not an albino bear, nor is it related to the polar bear. It has a cream-coloured coat due to a recessive allele that is present in around 10% of black bears in the area, so it is not unusual to see a black bear with one brown and one white cub, or even two white cubs.
Because of their spirit-like appearance, spirit bears hold a prominent place in the oral stories of the Canadian First Nations, where they are called mooksgm'ol. Interestingly, white bears are around 30% more effective at catching salmon than black bears as their light colour makes them less visible to the fish. The bear's habitat is another one that is potentially under threat from the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, whose planned route passes near the Great Bear Rainforest. The Gitga’at, Tsimshian and other native groups are opposing the pipeline.
See other photos here: http://goo.gl/FzHgQ