The spirit, or Kermode (ker-MO-dee) bear, is a western sub-species of American black bear (Ursus americanus kermodei) with cream-colored fur caused, not by albinism, but by the presence of a recessive phenotype that is unique to the species. The genetic combination is so rare that these spirit bears have been seen on only a few islands in the world, all of which are located around the Great Bear Rainforest between Seattle and Juneau. It is believed that, “white fur occurs in only one of every 40 to 100 black bears on the British Columbia mainland coast, but the trait is especially pronounced on certain islands in the Great Bear Rainforest.” Such a rare sighting for the voyageurs certainly warrants a place in their memories. However, the continued enjoyment of such spectacles is dependent upon the ability to reduce disturbance to the animals and to their natural territory.
A rare spirit bear, also known paradoxically as the “white black bear,” was spotted during a National Geographic Expeditions small-ship trip last weekend through the Inside Passage of British Columbia, southeast of Alaska. The expedition to Alaska, British Columbia, and the San Juan Islands, is a 12-day biannual trip aboard one of two vessels: the National Geographic Sea Lion and the National Geographic Sea Bird. This incredible experience affords travelers a chance to explore the wilderness by Zodiac, by kayak, and on foot, with a team of naturalists and a National Geographic photographer.
Spirit Bear in British Columbia. Photo by Justin Hofman.
During this most recent excursion, which just concluded this month, several whale sightings were tallied as the Sea Bird traversed northward through the islands and straights of maritime British Columbia on her way to Alaska. This landscape has been described as “an unspoiled labyrinth of tiny islands, spectacular fiords, and abundant wildlife.” This is a land where wolves can fish, deer have been known to swim, and black bears are sometimes white.
“In a moss-draped rain forest in British Columbia, towering red cedars live a thousand years, and black bears are born with white fur.” Photo by Paul Nicklen.
To learn more about how you can embark on a trip of a lifetime with National Geographic Expeditions, visit their website. For more information about wildlife in the Pacific Northwest, including the bears of those lands, check out these additional National Geographic resources:
• NG Live! presentation by Michael Melford, photographer for the Sea Bird