June 03, 2010 | Tips from Travellers >
Terrace, Bear Watching
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We see the mysterious white face of the Spirit Bear on pamphlets and brochures all over British Columbia. Especially in Terrace, the Spirit or Kermode Bear is an iconic symbol that attracts visitors from all over the globe. But does anyone ever see them?
This morning here at the Visitor Information Centre we recieved a group of tourists that were frustrated with the fact that they had not viewed a Spirit Bear and were questioning if they even exist! I have grown up in Terrace and recall only seeing one once as a small child on the Nass Hwy. Point being, they do exist and it is at those rare occasions that you are graced with a snapshot of their mysterious presence.
The Kermode bear, Ursus americanus kermodei, is a black bear with a white coat. Spirit bears are rare because it takes a fully recessive gene code to create the white coat, this combination only accounts for around 10% of the bear population in the area. The function of the white coat versus the dominant black coat is unknown, however the First Nations people have stories passed down through their oral history of how the Spirit bear was better suited for the snow-covered landscape.
A current hypothesis researched by scientists Dan Klinka and Tom Reimchen of the University of Victoria reveals a different significance to the white coated bears. They found that the salmon capture of the white bears to be significantly higher during the daylight versus the black bear. They also investigated salmon behaviour to black and white objects by using different coloured objects in the streams. No difference between black and white objects was found during the night, however during daylight salmon were twice as evasive to the black versus white objects. In summary, this tells us the white bear is more successful hunting salmon during the day than the black bear. This research is a hypothesis to help us understand why we have the Kermode bears living among the Black bears.
So don't be discouraged if you travel to the Terrace region and never see a Spirit Bear. Just be sure to have your camera at the ready!
If anyone is interested in reading the article by the scientists mentioned about it can be found published in Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, Volume 98, pp. 479-488.