British Columbia’s Iconic Spirit Bear

By Michaela Ludwig

The spirit bear, also known as a Kermode bear, is a colour phase of black bear with cream-coloured fur and they’re only found in British Columbia.

A spirit bear hunts for salmon in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia.

The name ‘black bear’ can be a bit deceiving, because black bears can come in other colours besides black – including brown, cinnamon, blond, blue-grey and white, as in the Kermode. Kermode bears are white due to recessive genes that are carried by both parents and only about one in 10 black bears have this pale colouring. Their entire coat is white, root to tip, but they should not be confused with an albino bear. Kermode bears are not albino because they have colour pigment in the skin and eyes; rather, it’s their mutant gene that causes their colouration.



Kermode bears are only found in BC’s coastal rainforest; in particular, there are thriving populations on Princess Royal and Gribbell islands. While the exact number of bears is not known, a best estimate puts their population at around 400 individuals.


In other respects, a Kermode bear acts like any other black bear – hibernating each fall in a den and surviving on plants, berries and salmon as their main dietary staples.

White Kermode Bear in Princess island

There are many lodges within the coastal rainforest that offer wildlife viewing tours, including tours to see the Kermode bear.


Fun Facts

  • The Kermode bear was named after Frank Kermode, who was the former director of the Royal BC Museum in Victoria.
  • A group of bears is called a sloth or sleuth.
  • The Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation believe the Creator Raven made the Kermode bear as a reminder to be thankful for the bountiful landscape.
  • Kermode bears are more successful at catching fish in the daylight because of their white fur.
  • The Kermode bear is the official mammal emblem of BC. (The Steller’s Jays is the official bird of the province.)

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