In Search of the Spirit Bear

My latest photographic adventure has taken me to British Columbia in Canada in search of an extremely rare bear called a Kermode bear or Spirit bear, held sacred by the First Nation people of the area known as the Great Bear Rain Forest.

There are no roads into the Great Bear Rainforest, located approximately 350 miles north of Vancouver; access is by water, floatplane or helicopter. Our journey began on a clear-skied summer morning as we assembled at Vancouver’s South Terminal ready to board our twin engine Pacific Coastal Airlines plane, which took us on a ninety minute scenic flight over snow capped ranges and coastal islands to the small village of Bella Bella, on Campbell Island.

A couple of mini buses transferred our party of ten photographers from the modest airport on the edge of the village to the dock where our small but functional water transport awaited to ferry us to our final destination.

Just under two hours later, after bouncing across stretches of open ocean and gliding smoothly along more protected waterways and inlets, we arrived at the dock of the Spirit Bear Lodge, our home for the next 5 days in the remote but delightful village of Klemtu.

The Spirit bear is a white bear, not an albino and no relation to the polar bear. It is a sub species of the black bear. A small percentage of the black bear population in this unique area of British Columbia, carry a recessive gene. When two black bears, both of which carry this recessive gene mate, the resulting cub will be white. Estimates of the Spirit bear numbers are as few as between 60 and 120 individual animals.

The Great Bear Rainforest is home to a vast array of other wildlife including brown bears, black bears, wolves, mink and other land mammals, bald eagles, ravens and marine animals like orcas, humpbacked whales, seals, sea lions, sea otters, dolphins and many more. It is a large, pristine wilderness, but it is under threat. The prospect of an oil spill from a large tanker passing by or through this region is alarming. At the time of writing, an announcement has just been made by the government of British Columbia, banning trophy hunting for brown bears throughout BC. This is great news and the first step in affording these beautiful animals greater protection.

Photographing in these conditions; a moving subject, from a moving platform (a boat) in gloomy low light was challenging. Coming away with an image of this beautiful, rare Spirit bear in her world left me with a spiritual connection to this place that I will never forget. It is my sincere hope that the power of these images will help more people connect with wildlife and wild places so they will want to come here and see for themselves, ensuring these animals are of far greater value alive, in their own environment.

I will be holding an “artist talk” at the Old Church Gallery Moore this Sunday, August 27 at 1pm to discuss more about this amazing trip and show some of the wonderful images I was able to capture. I would love it if you could join me.

David Mackenzie

“Wild Places Matter”

A juvenile Bald eagle coming in to land

A juvenile Bald eagle coming in to land

Very cute & very dangerous. A Brown bear eating sedge grass, their mail diet before the salmon come in from the ocean to spawn

Very cute & very dangerous. A Brown bear eating sedge grass, their main diet before the salmon come in from the ocean to spawn

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