Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Canadian Species Spotlight - The Spirit Bear

The rare Spirit Bear is known locally by several names;

-Kermode Bear, named after Francis Kermodei, former director of the Royal B.C. Museum.
-White Bear or Ghost Bear is often used by local folks.
-Moksgm’ol by local First Nations.
-Ursus americanus kermodei by Scientists.
-Spirit Bear is a more recent name for the White Bear.  Appropriate for a bear that is known for it’s elusive, ghostly yet timid nature.

This rare White Bear is actually a Black Bear! Scientists are actively studying this rare genetic trait that is possibly due to a recessive gene, or could be due to a result of a concentration of gene in a given area. The Spirit Bear is not an albino.

Scientists estimate there are 1,200 black and white Kermode bears in the coast area of British Columbia that stretches from around the northern tip of Vancouver Island northwards to the Alaska panhandle.

Many sightings are reported around the Terrace area, making the Spirit Bear it’s official mascot. They are often seen as far east as Hazelton, as far north as the Nass Valley up to Cranberry Junction and as far west as Prince Rupert.

Even though Kitimat is closest to the largely populated area of Princess Royal Island, there are almost no sightings in the area.

Like most black bears, the Spirit Bear only weighs about half a pound at birth, growing to 150-300 pounds when fully grown. The Kermode’s size averages between 4 and 6 feet. Height measured from paw to shoulders averages between 2 ½ and 3 feet.

The beautiful Spirit Bear will eat almost anything. Including you! However, there have been no reports of them eating people.

Being omnivores, they mostly live on fish and berries, but also eat deer and moose fawns, carrion, insects, plants, fruits, nuts, mushrooms and nuts. They depend on salmon runs in the fall to fatten themselves up for the long winter hibernation, where they can go without food for up to 7 months. This is the time frame we visit BC to photograph the spirit bears… and timing is everything to increase your chances. Having lived in BC I constantly monitor and watch the salmon spawns as they change slightly year over year. This allows us to adjust the tours for spirit bears to make sure you have the best chance to see them as they feed on the salmon.

Females reach sexual maturity at three to four years of age. They mate during the late spring, early summer months, gestating about 220 days. Cubs are born in their mother’s winter den in January or February, and are weaned at about eight months, but may remain with their mother for up to a year-and-a-half, when she is ready to mate again.

Like black bears, their average life span is about 25 years.

If you want to go photograph teh Spirit Bears with us, please check out the information on our next Spirit Bear trip to photograph grizzly, black and spirit bear. Details can be seen here.

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