Spirit Bears

The Pacific Coast of BC is Home to World's only White Coloured Black Bears

The Spirit bear (Ursus americanus kermodei) or moskgm'ol (white bear), as called by the Tsimshian Coastal First Nations, is thought by scientists to be a genetic variation of the black bear that roams throughout British Columbia.


 
Scientists believe that the presence of a single recessive gene in these creatures is responsible for the white coat that as many as one in ten of these bears is born with and retain throughout their lives. It lives in the greatest numbers on the islands, off the north-central coast of British Columbia. White coat Spirit Bears are found most frequently on Princess Royal Island, situated between the coastal mainland and the Queen Charlotte Islands. Scientists believe there is such a high concentration of the Spirit Bears on this island because they are geographically isolated from other black bear populations.

Scientists estimate there are less than 400 Spirit Bears in the coast area that stretches from around the northern tip of Vancouver Island northwards to the Alaska panhandle.  On the large Princess Royal Island, there are approximately 120 Spirit Bears. Princess Royal Island is also the location of the recently created Spirit Bear Conservancy.

The Spirit Bear fascinates geneticists and wilderness lovers. Scientists, keen to isolate the gene that causes the white coat, are conducting DNA analysis on the bear so that they can determine how common it is elsewhere on the continent. They also want to determine whether the Spirit bear is a race or simply the product of a concentration of a gene in a given area. Researchers have been analyzing fur samples from “rubbing” trees used by the bears, and have set out snares across trails to capture hairs to examine for genetic information.


“Raven made one in every ten black bears white to remind the people of a time when glaciers covered this land."
Tsimshian Lore
The Kitasoo Xaixais people, who have lived with these bears for thousands of years, have a myth about the white bears that says “Raven made one in every ten black bears white to remind the people of a time when glaciers covered this land and how the people should be thankful of the lush and bountiful land of today.”  Many of the Kitasoo Xaixais believe the Spirit Bears hold super-natural powers, hence the name Spirit Bear – a name that suits its mythical like presence.