National Geographic: Kermode Bear

The cover of the August 2011 National Geographic Magazine shows a Spirit Bear photograph taken by iLCP photographer Paul Nicklen. Check out the gallery of amazing shots here.

“Neither albino nor polar bear, the spirit bear (also known as the Kermode bear) is a white variant of the North American black bear, and it’s found almost exclusively here in the Great Bear Rainforest. At 25,000 square miles—one and a half times as big as Switzerland—the region runs 250 miles down Canada’s western coast and encompasses a vast network of mist-shrouded fjords, densely forested islands, and glacier-capped mountains. Grizzlies, black bears, wolves, wolverines, humpback whales, and orcas thrive along a coast that has been home to First Nations like the Gitga’at for hundreds of generations. It’s a spooky, wild, mysterious place: There are wolves here that fish. Deer that swim. Western red cedar trees that have stood a thousand years or more. And a black bear that is white…

Researchers have recently proved that the spirit bear’s white coat gives it an advantage when fishing. Although white and black bears tend to have the same success rate after dark—when bears do a lot of their fishing—scientists Reimchen and Dan Klinka from the University of Victoria noticed a difference during the daytime. White bears catch salmon in one-third of their attempts. Black individuals are successful only one-quarter of the time. “The salmon are less concerned about a white object as seen from below the surface,” Reimchen speculates. That may answer part of the question about why the white-fur trait continues to flourish today. If salmon are a coastal bear’s primary fat and protein source, a successful female can feast on salmon to store more fat for winter, potentially increasing the number of cubs she can produce.” -Bruce Barcott from the August issue of the National Geographic magazine, available on newsstands July 26

Related National Geographic Article: Pipeline Through Paradise

Imagery by iLCP photographers on the Great Bear Rainforest RAVE can be seen here.