Kermode Bears

Kermode bears ( Ursus americanus kermodei) are also known as the spirit bear or ghost bear because of the white coat that some of these black bears have.

Kermode bear by the river side eating what appears to be scraps of leftover fish.
Kermode Bear

Some believe that Kermode bears evolved over the last 10,000 years from black bears that became isolated more than 300,000 years ago. Here’s everything you need to know about these bears.


Kermode bears live in the Great Bear Rain Forest in British Columbia and a few of the islands nearby. However, the highest concentration of these bears lives on Princess Royal Island. There are other black bears and brown bears living in surrounding areas as well.


Kermode bears get their white fur due to a recessive gene found in about 10 percent of the population. White cubs are born if both parents carry the gene. The bears ca be white, cream, orange, gold, or gray in color. However, most are black.

The average Kermode bear weighs about 300 pounds. Males are larger than females and can weigh up to 496 lbs whereas females usually reach 298 lbs. These bears are about 6 feet tall.


Kermode bears are omnivorous meaning that they eat both plants and animals. During autumn, the bears hunt and catch salmon during the salmon migration. For the remainder of the year, they feed on nuts, shrubs, berries, and insects.


Kermode bears give birth to 1 to 4 cubs (while in hibernation). The cubs weigh about 1/2 a pound at birth and stay with the mother for 2 years.

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While Kermode bears are not considered endangered, they face problems such as habitat loss, logging, and hybridization (mixing with mainland black bears). Hunting is also an issue as they are also targets of hunters.

There’s an estimated 1200 kermode bears of which only 200 are believed to have white fur. There have been significant conservation efforts to maintain the rare subspecies’ population due to its cultural significance.

As a result of habitat loss, logging, mismanagement, and hybridization with the mainland black bears that don’t carry their unique gene, the Kermode bear is facing eventual extinction. Of an estimated 1,200 Kermode bears, fewer than 200 are white. Regardless of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement which was written up in 2006 by the government of British Columbia in attempt to limit logging within the area, the Kermode bear still possesses no legal protection as its habitat continues to dwindle.

Interesting Facts About Kermode Bears

  • Named after Frank Kermode, former director of the Royal B.C. Museum, Victoria.
  • The Kermode or Spirit Bear is a black bear that has white fur due to a rare genetic trait.
  • The bear is not albino, as it typically has a brown nose and eyes.
  • The greatest concentration of Spirit Bears are found on the Central Coast and North Coast of British Columbia, Canada, but have been documented in northeast British Columbia and as far east in North America as Minnesota.
  • In British Columbia, the greatest number of Spirit Bears are found on Princess Royal Island, where as many as one-tenth of the black bears born are white.
  • In British Columbia, it is illegal to hunt the Spirit Bear.
  • The Spirit Bear, like most black bears, weighs about half a pound when born and generally between 150-300 pounds when fully grown.
  • The bear’s body length, measured from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail, averages between four and six feet. Its height, measured from the bottom of the paw flat on the ground to the highest part of the shoulders, is between two-and-a-half and three feet.
  • Spirit bears, like most black bears, are omnivores. They eat berries, nuts, fruits, roots, grasses and other plants, insects, deer and moose fawns, carrion and, during the salmon season from late summer through fall, spawning salmon.
  • They are usually solitary, except females with offspring. Males keep large home ranges overlapping with smaller ranges of several females.
  • Females reach sexual maturity at three to four years of age. Mating takes place during the summer months, with gestation taking about 220 days. Cubs are born in their mother’s winter den in January or February, and are weaned at about eight months, but may remain with their mother for up to a year-and-a-half, when she is ready to mate again.
  • Spirit bears can run up to 55 km per hour.
  • They can go without food for up to seven months during hibernation in northern areas.
  • Spirit bears can live for more than 25 years in the wild.
  • It’s the official provincial mammal of British Columbia.
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