For many years, the Spirit Bear was considered a legend of the Gitg’at and Kitasoo Native Peoples. Their legends told of a time when the glaciers finally receded, and it was Raven who made everything green. Raven also decided to make one in ten black bears white, to remind him of the time when the world was white with snow and ice. Raven decided to set aside a special area of the world for these bears – now known as the Great Bear Rainforest. It was a remote paradise where the bears were to live in peace forever.
The Great Bear Rainforest is pristine rainforest with valleys covered in lush foliage. Hemlock, cedar and ancient Sitka spruce stand tall. Packs of rare black wolves roam freely and hunt the many deer in the forest. Porpoises, seals, orcas and humpback whales inhabit the channels and coves around the rainforest. In many ways, the Great Bear Rainforest strongly resembles the paradise that Raven had meant it to be. However, hunting and the fish farming industries are endangering the “Spirit Bear”
The Spirit Bear, also known as Kermode bear (Ursa Americanus Kermodie) only lives in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest. This bear is not related to the polar bear nor is it an albino. It is a Black Bear with a recessive gene that causes about 1 in 10 bears to be white. Families of these bears can consist of both black and white bears.
The Spirit Bear lives in an area totaling just over 7 million hectares. They range from Princess Royal Island to Prince Rupert Island, Terrace and East Hazelton. Studies have shown that most of the world’s Spirit Bears are found on Princess Royal Island.
The Spirit Bears survived the ice age, but there are estimated to be well less than a thousand left in the world. These low numbers of bears mean that the bear is facing the danger of becoming extinct. While the white “Spirit” bears themselves are protected from hunting, the Black Bears that share their genetic heritage in the same forests are not. And when one of the black bears is killed for a trophy on someone’s wall or floor, the special recessive genes that help create the Raven’s Spirit Bears, dies along with the Black Bear.
A further threat comes from the numerous fish farms spreading like chickweed throughout the channels and inlets throughout the rainforest. These farms produce Atlantic Salmon, a species obviously not native to the pacific west coast of Canada. The high concentration of fish in the farm nets leads to severe problems with sea lice. While many wild fish will naturally have a couple of lice living on their bodies, the locations of fish farms with their close proximity to the natural spawning creeks and rivers of the wild Salmon means that young, freshly hatched wild fry must swim through heavily lice infested waters where their small bodies can be quickly and completely overwhelmed with lice, killing the fry.
This year (200( the salmon counts are desperately low, leading to low numbers of bears, Spirit, Black and Grizzly, fishing the rivers. The bears rely on the nutrition and fat from the salmon to survive their winter hibernation. The wild salmon are the lynch pin of entire rainforest eco system. From the wolves to the Bears and even the forest itself, all these natural systems rely on the nutrition of the wild salmon to survive.
Every European country that has introduced fish farming has seen their natural wild salmon stocks collapse. When you next consider purchasing fish for dinner or even at a restaurant, you can really help the wildlife in the Great Bear Rainforest by only purchasing wild and not farmed fish.
If you’d like to help make a difference, consider writing to:
Premier of British Columbia
Mailing Address: Room 156
Victoria, BC V8V 1X4
Minister of Forests and Range
Mailing Address: Room 137
Victoria, BC V8V 1X4
And, you might want to consider supporting an organization called Pacific Wild. Pacific Wild is an environmental organization run by Ian McAllister whose mission is to research and find ways to protect this incredibly special area of the world.
If you have any comments or questions about the video, I’d love to hear from you.