the spirit bear

The spirit bear is extremely rare and can only be found in Canada's rainforest

The Kermode Spirit bear might just be Canada's best-kept secret; the elusive, ghostly mammal dwells in the heart of the Great Bear Forest, and sightings of the bears are rare.

The white bears are found exclusively in British Columbia, primarily on Gribbell Island and Princess Royal Island.

Western ecologists know little about the Kermode bear, but they're believed to be a rare genetic variation of the black bear (a similar variant is found in yellow Labradors).

So just how rare are Spirit bears?

Well, to give you an idea, researchers currently believe that only about 100 to 500 Kermode bears exist in total.

Those few bears are spread out over roughly 6,500 square kilometres of thick, Canadian rainforest (which is about the size of Ottawa, for comparison).

That makes spotting a Spirit bear very rare indeed.

But the Kermode bears' blonde coats are more than just a pretty feature; their light fur blends in with the clouds, allowing them to sneak up on fish better than darker bears.

In fact, Kermode bears experience a 30 per cent higher success rate than black bears when it comes to fishing, according to the B.C. government website.

The Kermode bear also carries a large amount of cultural significance in First Nations communities.

In the Tsimshian language group, Spirit bears are referred to as Moksgm'ol; the rare white bears are celebrated through stories, dance and songs.

A Kitasoo legend even credits Wee'git (Raven, the Trickster) with changing the coat colour of every tenth black bear on Princess Royal Island to white as a reminder of the harsh conditions during the ice age.

Today, the Kitasoo/Xai'xais and Gitga'at Nations operate successful bear-based ecotourism businesses in the region (and invest in extensive conservation efforts).

Kermode bears aren't the only white bear in Canada; polar bears are native to some northern regions, and a rare white grizzly has even been spotted roaming around Alberta.

Spirit bears are certainly in good company.

Lead photo by

Maximilian Helm

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