These bears are found in some of the islands off of the coast of North and Central British Columbia and it is estimated that not more than 400 are in existence. Prince Royal Island has the greatest concentration of the “Spirit Bears”, also known as Kermode bears. They are a sub-species of the black bears and while they are white, they are not albinos. I spend about 8 days in this trip and did not get to see one until the “last day” walking along the shoreline. The Spirit Bears, as most others, are scavengers’ and feed in what they can find. After they wake up from the winter hibernation, they feed mostly in grasses and bulbs. When the salmon arrives at the streams in late August, they feed in the meat and start accumulating fat for the winter. After the salmon run is finish, they feed mostly in berries and whatever else they can find. I observed the spirit bear feeding on the barnacles growing in the seashore rocks and later on berries as you can see in the images below.
In the way to the island where the spirit bears, we stopped at various inlets and rivers where we had the opportunity to photograph grizzly bears. During a stop at the Mussel River, we observed about 8 grizzly bears, some of them with cubs. They were mostly scavenging for death salmon since the runs have already taken place; I was there in the first week of October and the run was at its peak in late August/early September. It was a very productive stop and able to photograph observe their various activities such as feeding, swimming and cubs playing. The grizzly below is eating the rotten carcass of a salmon.
On various occasions while navigating along the Queen Charlotte Sound and inlets, I had the opportunity to observe humpback whales feeding. These giants’ fish in pods and when they locate a school of fish, they corral them in a net of bubbles and they plunge into the school surfacing with mouths full of fish. This is behavior is called bubbling netting. In the image below, the pink area seen is the roof of the mouth and the yellow hairs are the baleens that filter the water out and catch the prey. The black dots you see in the pink area are some of the fish caught. We had the opportunity to see another sea mammal, a harbor seal resting in top of a tree stump. How was it able to climb there?
While in the island where the spirit bears are more likely to be seen, I stayed for 3 full days in the blinds waiting for the bears…they never showed. But black bears were patrolling the creek looking for the few stray salmon left as well as their carcasses. For the first time, I got to see the dipper, a bird that feeds and swim under water that is about the size of a robin. The guide was surprised to see that this bird was also feeding in young salmon fingerlings; this may be been the first observation of such behavior. One evening in the way back to the boat, the guide gathered a few salmon carcasses to use as bait for the crab traps. The baited traps were dropped in the sound and the next day we had an outstanding fresh Dungeness crab dinner.
The boat trip ended at Hartley Bay and from there, I flew to Prince Rupert float plane to catch a flight back to Vancouver later in the day. Prince Rupert is a picturesque small town that has seen better days. Walking through the business district, a lot of the stores are closed and the ones still operating are catering to the tourist business. There is a “First Nations” museum well worth a visit, a nice city hall and a government building, both built during the age of the British Empire heydays. The city just recently suffered an earthquake with an intensity of 7.7. I enjoyed the time here and would like to come back with more time…lots of neat restaurants to taste not to mention the variety of local beers