In September, 2015, I joined Charles Glatzer (Shoot the Light) and five other photographers for a week on the Ocean Light II, a beautifully maintained 71 ft. ketch rigged sailboat. Our objective was to spend five days photographing bears in the incredibly beautiful Great Bear Rainforest. Primarily, we were interested in seeing and photographing Spirit Bears.
The Kermode bear (Ursus americanus kermodei), also known as the "spirit bear" (particularly in British Columbia), is a subspecies of the American Black Bear living in the Central and North Coast regions of British Columbia, Canada. It is noted for about 1⁄10 of their population having white or cream-colored coats. This color is due to a double recessive gene unique in the subspecies.
The Kermode bear was named after Francis Kermode, former director of the Royal B.C. Museum, who researched the subspecies. The name is pronounced Ker-MODE. A male Kermode bear can reach 225 kg (500 lb) or more, females are much smaller with a maximum weight of 135 kg (300 lb). Straight up, it stands 180 cm (5' 11") tall.
Fewer than 400 Kermode bears are estimated to exist in the coast area that stretches from southeast Alaska southwards to the northern tip of Vancouver Island; about 120 inhabit the large Princess Royal Island. The largest concentration of the white bears inhabits 80-square-mile Gribbell Island.
We spent 4 days along the shoreline of two rivers on Gribbell Island. As is true to the article, for the first two days we saw no “white” bears. But on days 3 and 4 we experienced a female who spent most of the time wandering up and down the river from our two viewing locations.
The spirit bear experience is special, primarily because the subject is rare, but also because the setting and the bears themselves are beautiful. The native “First Nation” inhabitants of Gribbell Island control the viewing and have constructed a rough trail and viewing locations. You must obtain a permit from them to enter the habitat. While the viewing experience is somewhat commercial, the actual time a bear is in front of your lens is very special. The Great Bear Rainforest, as they call the area, is a surreal landscape, very lush and green with flowing streams and lots of moss on the foliage.