Kemode bear sow and cub at Spirit Bear Lodge, Klemtu, British Columbia, Canada (Maximilian Helm – Creative Commons Licence)

Accepted scientific name:  Ursus americanus kermodei (William Temple Hornaday, 1905)

Description:  Both black and white colour phases, around 10% being white.  Adult bears are around 180 cm to 2 metres in length and males weigh from around 125 kg to 365 kg and average around 200 to 230 kg.  Females weigh between around 110 and 180 kg and average around 135 kg.  White Kermode bears, also known as Spirit bears are the result of a recessive gene. Bears carrying this gene can be black or white but for white offspring to be born both parents must carry it.

Range:  The Great Bear Rainforest of the central and north coast of British Columbia, Canada, specifically the coastal mainland from Burke Channel to Nass River and some adjacent coastal islands (including Princess Royal) and inland towards Hazleton.

Distribution area of spirit bear in British Columbia (Creative Commons Licence)

Habitat:  Mixed coastal rainforest and shoreline.  Typical trees of this area are the sitka spruce, western hemlock and yellow cedar.

Status: Estimates of the current population vary between around 400 and 1,200 individuals.  Inter-breeding with other subspecies of American black bear suggest that, in time, the Kermode subspecies will cease to exist.  The bear is not specifically protected although some parts of its habitat are.  Until recently it was thought that here were between 100 and 500 of the white phase bears.  It is now thought that these are much more rare with a maximum population of no more than around 250 bears.

Life span:  Normally between 20 and 25 years in the wild,

Food:  Omnivorous, eating grasses, forbs, bulbs, nuts, berries, fruits, insects, small mammals, deer fawns, moose calves, carrion and salmon during spawning from late summer onwards.

Behaviour:. The bears hibernate in winter dens, usually in cavities in old-growth trees.  Hibernation can last for up to seven months.  Females are sexually mature at three or four years of age and mating takes place during the summer.  Cubs are born in the winter den in January or February, are weaned at around eight months, but remain with the mother usually for seventeen months during which time she will not become pregnant again.  Litters are usually of two cubs but single cubs and triplets have been recorded.

Threats:  Oil development (tar sands pipeline; see “Action” below).  Habitat loss due to logging operations.  Climate change threatens the Great Bear Rainforest ecosystem.


Spirit Bear Foundation –  A collaboration between the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation and conservation scientists conducting locally relevant, ecosystem-based wildlife research to address pressing conservation concerns in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest.

Keeping the Spirit Bear Coast Clear of Tar Sands Oil (2016)

Kitasoo Spirit Bear Conservancy – BC Parks website.

Spirit Bear Lodge – Spirit Bear Lodge is Indigenous-owned, offering exclusive access to wildlife viewing areas and cultural sites within the Kitasoo Xai’xais traditional territory.

Long kept secret, Canada’s ghostly spirit bears are even rarer than thought (2020)



Page updated 28 March 2022