Bright white fur against British Columbia's green forests makes the spirit bear a sight to witness. In the Great Bear Rainforest, spirit bears feed on vegetation ample with bulbs, insects, fruit, rodents, and of course, delicious salmon throughout the summer to fatten up for the long cold winters ahead.
The spirit bear, also known as Kermode bear or ghost bear, is a rare subspecies of the American black bear. They were named after Frank Kermode, a former director of the Royal B.C. Museum, who researched the animals and was a colleague of William Hornaday, the zoologist who defined them. The bears live in the North and Central Coast regions of British Columbia and are the official provincial mammals of the region. While most ghost bears are black, there are roughly 100 to 500 of the entirely white species. These white bears are most common on Roderick, Gribbell, and Princess Royal islands, where up to 20% of bears are white.
They are not albinos as they have black noses, paw pads, and eye sockets. Their white coat, which is more of dirty vanilla or cream colour, is the result of a recessive gene which must be carried by both parents for a white cub to be born. Spirit bears have a significant meaning in American Indian and Canadian First Nations mythology. Some people believe these white coats are a reminder of the rigours of the ice age. The bears have even been featured in a National Geographic documentary.
The best season to witness these wonders of nature is during salmon spawning season, between late August and early October, when bears commonly feed on fish at the water.