For those of you who haven’t heard of the spirit bear I’ll give you a quick introduction. Deep in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada, lives a truly special animal. Otherwise known as a Kermode bear, the spirit bear is actually a subspecies of the American black bear. The reason they are so unique is that around 10% of the population have bright white coats. They aren’t albino and they aren’t polar bears, the colouration is actually due to a double recessive gene unique to this species. When two bears with this gene come together they have a chance of making a beautiful white bear. The spirit bears have enormous cultural significance in the neighbouring communities and with so few white bears in the wild, the opportunity to try and see one was a true Bucket List experience for us.
We travelled with Tim Irvin on his 6 day spirit bear tour in September. September is at the peak of the North American salmon run so bears often congregate at the rivers to fish. This means that if we place ourselves at the rivers we have our best opportunity to see the bears. The trip was always one of the highlights of our Bucket List and it did not disappoint.
To begin with, the setting was truly spectacular. Your base in the Great Bear Rainforest is the town of Hartley Bay. With no roads and no shops the town is really a collection of houses connected by boardwalks. It is from here you make the daily boat journey out into the bay and on to the uninhabited neighbouring islands in search of the mystical white bear. The journey to the island is arguably just as spectacular as the forest. We were entertained by feeding humpback whales each day. Hundreds of these gentle giants call this area home for large parts of the year and your chances of seeing feeding and breaching whales is very good.
Once you are on the island you are met with lush rainforest scenery and untouched forest, just the way it would have been for thousands of years before. You will make your way through the vegetation to one of the island’s rivers. It is here you will make your base for the day and wait patiently to see if any hungry bears decide to show up. At this time of year the rivers are teeming with a variety of salmon species, all trying their hardest to make their way upstream to the best spawning grounds. Swimming upstream against the current is slow and hard going, especially when the salmon hit areas of rapids or waterfalls. Hence why you will find the bears and birds of the area waiting at these points for their annual feast.
At the river your chances of seeing black bears is very high. We saw many and even watched as one bear stood atop a waterfall catching the salmon as they jumped up the falls. However, nothing truly compares with the moment you see that first flash of white against the dark green of the forest. Seeing a spirit bear for the first time really reminds you how magical this world can be. Catching a glimpse of a Kermode is by no means guaranteed though. Marven and his team are amazing and they will do their best to put you in the right place at the right time. However, you’ll still need that little slice of luck to see one of these magical animals.
Unfortunately, it is moments like this that remind you the Great Bear Rainforest, many other forests, and the animals who live in them are under constant threat. Deforestation, pollution and global warming are all having serious negative impacts on this truly wondrous place and we must all do what we can to help preserve the little portions of paradise we have left. We intend to write more about this subject in the future so please follow the blog for notifications of new posts.
Enjoy the gallery of our pictures from day 1 of our trip to see the Spirit bears of the Great Bear Rainforest.