One of the highlights of booking a stay in one of the many Sointula accommodation options is the chance to explore Malcolm Island’s rich landscapes and wildlife. Malcolm Island is located in the Great Bear Rainforest, a 6.4 million hectare, or 1.5 million acres, a temperate rainforest that stretches up British Columbia’s Pacific coast. 

This rich rainforest is protected by a historic agreement, which has helped to preserve the forest and its inhabitants for future generations to enjoy. It also means that the rainforest is home to many diverse species, some of which are found nowhere else in the world.

One such creature is the Spirit bear. Spirit bears, also known as Kermode bears — or by their scientific name, Ursus americanus kermodei — are a subspecies of North American black bears. They have brown eyes, dark nose pads, and white claws. But most striking is their white fur. This unique color is due to a rare recessive gene. 

Spirit bears are a rare sight in British Columbia. But if you plan to do some exploring, either by land or sea, during your stay in your Sointula accommodation, you could just get lucky enough to spot these incredible creatures. Keep reading to learn where to look, and more about this unique species.

How Many Spirit Bears are There in the Wild?

Black bears are a relatively common sight in much of British Columbia. Experts estimate that there are between 120,000 and 160,000 black bears in the province. However, the gene mutation that gives black bears their white color is very rare. This, combined with the shy nature of Kermode bears and the dense wilderness habitat that they call home, makes it difficult to get an exact count on their population in the wild.

Although the precise number of spirit bears inhabiting this region of the world is unknown, estimates place them anywhere from as few as 100 in the wild to as many as 500.

To have pale cubs, both parents—white or black—must have the gene that causes the coat to be white or cream. Therefore, even if one is a spirit bear, the likelihood of a pair of black bears giving birth to a spirit bear is incredibly remote.

Where Can You Find Spirit Bears?

You won’t find Kermode bears on Malcolm Island. However, this doesn’t mean that a Sointula accommodation option isn’t a good choice for a trip to try to spot one.

Princess Royal and Gribbell Islands off the coast of British Columbia are home to the majority of Spirit bears. Both islands are located to the North of Malcolm Island and are accessible only by water. Both islands are isolated and unpopulated. 

One great way to visit these islands is with a Wilderness Tour from Sointula Lodge. These customizable wilderness trips allow guests to choose the activities and adventures they enjoy each day. Your experienced guide can take you by boat to these and other islands and inlets in search of Kermode bears, whales, and other wildlife. Day trip tours to these islands may also be available from charter companies located in Sointula and on nearby Vancouver Island.

Getting to these islands is only a part of the challenge. While the islands may be home to most of the world’s Kermode bears, only around 20 percent of the bears found there have the recessive gene and white fur. The majority are black.

Are Spirit Bears Albinos?

Despite their appearance, spirit bears aren’t albinos. They do not have albinism because they have pigment in their skin and eyes. Albinism occurs when the cells can’t produce melanin, which causes the color in hair, skin, eyes, or scales. In animals, albinism can cause the skin and fur to look white or pink. It also causes pink eyes and noses.

By contrast, spirit bears’ single mutated gene causes its unique coloring.

Spirit Bears and Native Americans

Long before European settlers arrived in British Columbia, Native Americans lived on the region’s many coastal islands. The spirit bear is referred to by the First Nations groups who have inhabited the area for thousands of years as moskgm’ol, which means “white bear.”

They saw the moskgm’ol as something special and may have even believed them to have supernatural powers. According to some First Nation legends, Spirit bears were able to dive deep underwater and lead people to magic destinations. There have even been instances of masks and other artwork created to honor these unique creatures.

Diet of the Spirit Bears

Many species that call the Great Bear Rainforest home depend on Pacific salmon for their survival. Each autumn, before they begin hibernating for winter, Spirit bears, as well as regular black bears, feed on pink, chum, and coho salmon as they return from the ocean to breed.

Kermode bears consume various other things, such as fruits, berries, nuts, grasses, roots, and other plants. 

Spirit Bears are at Risk

Kermode bears are considered endangered. Like most other British Columbia wildlife, their habitat has been threatened by logging. Additionally, scientists believe that because Spirit bears tend to build their dens close to the coast, they may be at greater risk of danger from oil spills than other bear species.

Choosing the Right Sointula Accommodation

There’s no way to guarantee a sighting of this unique creature during your visit. Bu if you want to increase your chances, booking your Sointula accommodation with Sointula Lodge can help increase your odds. The Lodge’s experienced staff will help you explore coastal BC in search of not only Kermode bears, but whales, orcas, wolves, and a variety of other unique creatures.

Ready to start planning your next adventure? Check out our Sointula accommodation guide to get started.