Field Journal: The Elusive Spirit Bear
Posted by Kevin Clement
in Americas and Expeditions
Late last night I was awakened by the sound of rain. It was pounding down on the deck of the sailboat, which was about six inches above my nose as I lay in my bunk. Then I heard the wind and felt the boat swing into the gale as the anchor chain snapped taut, and thought Uh-oh.
The boat is in a secure anchorage and was in no danger. But the reason we had chartered the Island Odyssey and the reason the 13 of us were aboard was to try to see the legendary spirit bear, a rare, half-mythical white bear that inhabits, in very small numbers, certain remote pockets of the coastal rainforests of British Columbia. We were to make our first attempt the following morning.
This storm was not good news. The salmon run, which was the reason the bears might be on the creek we were going to search, is very poor this year. The area has been in a state of drought…until now. This heavy rain would cause the creek to rise, perhaps to flood, almost instantly, and would flush out the few salmon that were still trying to reach their spawning grounds.
As we slogged up the trail along the swollen creek in ankle-deep water, rain drumming on our hoods, I doubted we would see a bear of any color that day. We took our places in the viewing stand and we waited, watching the creek rise. We couldn’t see a single fish.
After an hour, most of the group had sunk into a kind of glum reverie. I kept searching the stream, the banks, the forest, over and over. It’s always a big risk to stake the success of a trip on sighting one charismatic creature, especially one as elusive as Canada’s spirit bear. We had already seen amazing things on our voyage—wolf cubs playing, Dall’s Porpoises bow-riding, Humpback Whales bubble-net-feeding—but the expedition wasn’t going to have the same feeling if we struck out with the bear. I scanned with my binoculars for the hundredth time—and then, as I lowered them, I caught something out of the corner of my eye, something…white.
Well upstream from our position, a massive cedar log had fallen across the creek, forming a natural bridge. And on it stood a spirit bear, pale and ethereal in the rain, looking our way.
Suddenly everyone was in motion. Camera lenses swung up, cold hands fumbled for binoculars, and I focused my scope. One of the strangest animals I’ve ever seen sprang into the eyepiece. And I mentally mopped my forehead and let out my breath in a great big Whew. When the bear moved on (only to return later) I looked around at the group and said, “We did it. We witnessed the rare Canada spirit bear!”
Tonight we will be celebrating our success against the odds. And I expect to sleep much better.
See the legendary Spirit Bear for yourself on our Canada Spirit Bears Tour.