Legend of the “Spirit Bear”

Posted on 05. Oct, 2009 by in Everything, Videos, Workshops, Tours and Courses

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

Email: premier@gov.bc.ca

Mailing Address: Room 156
Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC V8V 1X4

Phone: 250-387-1715
Fax: 250-356-6176

Minister of Forests and Range

Email: for.minister@gov.bc.ca

Mailing Address: Room 137
Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC V8V 1X4

Phone: 250-387-6240
Fax: 250-387-1040

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.

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12 Responses to “Legend of the “Spirit Bear””

  1. Tony

    05. Oct, 2009

    Amazing footage and a well written article, Paul. I have only ever seen photos of these amazing animals and it was just fascinating just watching the bear on video here.

    Thanks for including contact details to make a difference. Pacific Wild seem like a great organization and I have bookmarked their site to have a better read later on.

  2. Xai'xais

    06. Oct, 2009

    Perhaps you should have considered contacting the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people of Klemtu, before creating your opinion. We have been farming salmon for 25 years now, and within that time have seen very good and very bad salmon returns. Salmon returns have little to do with salmon farms. The farms (I would argue that 4 operating farms is not “numerous”)) are very well managed and provide stable employment for us. The fish raised on the farms are sent to our processing plant in the village where we work for over 6 months each year.

    You should not be so quick to judge what we do in our territory.

    • Paul Burwell

      06. Oct, 2009


      Thanks for taking the time to write with your concerns.

      I appreciate the fact that the fish farm run by your community provides jobs and income. And, if it were only your group doing so, there wouldn’t be an issue. But the hundreds and hundreds of these fish farms are causing real, measurable grief for the wild salmon stocks.

      For fattening up for their winter hibernation, the bears rely on the Chum Salmon. While we saw quite a few Pink Salmon, we saw literally no Chum Salmon when normally the river should have been teaming with them. One suggestion for the poor Chum Salmon this year is the huge impact of the large commercial fish farms.

      I hold no ill will towards what you and the other Klemtu peoples are trying to work towards. However, the larger commercial operators are a different matter entirely, in my opinion.

      Thanks again for writing with your thoughts and all the best to you in the future.

  3. Xai'xais

    06. Oct, 2009

    Just to clarify, there are about 60 farms in British Columbia actively farming fish right now. Not “hundreds and hundreds”.

    Secondly, if you saw “quite a few Pink salmon” in the area, then why would salmon farms only affect Chum? Remember, salmon farms were supposed to have killed off pink salmon in BC, and this year we see record returns to many rivers (near and far from farms), so this was simply not true. Just because “one suggestion” pointed at salmon farms, shouldn’t provide you the evidence you needed to write this one-sided opinion piece.

    Every year will have one of the five species of salmon having poor returns somewhere on this coast, while the other four species do well – that has been happening well before white man even arrived in the West. It gets a little tiring when mainlanders like you simply fly in for a week and offer your very unscientific opinion about why one species is having a poor year.

    One last thing, you say “purchase wild and not farmed fish” and then wish me “the best for the future”. That’s like me saying “don’t buy Paul Burwell photography” and then saying “good luck supporting your family”. Nice. Thanks.

    • Paul Burwell

      06. Oct, 2009


      Thanks again for your input.

      I agree that fish stocks, along with bear populations have risen and fallen throughout the centuries.

      However, the fact remains that the wild salmon stocks are showing alarming signs of complete collapse. Very similar to what has happened to the wild stocks in the European countries that have implemented fish farming.

      I also understand that fish farming is British Columbia’s largest agricultural export and that it isn’t going away any time soon. Most people, when buying salmon, don’t differentiate between wild and farmed salmon and they don’t understand that many scientists and interested individuals have concerns about some aspects of the fish farming industry. My blog article was an attempt to help people begin to educate themselves.

      I’ve also provided a forum where you can state your opinion as well and people can form their own opinions.

      My blog is definitely an opinion piece. No argument there.

      We can agree to disagree, but I do wish you as well as the Kitasoo/Xai’xais people all the best in the future.

    • Paul Burwell

      20. Oct, 2011

  4. Xai'xais

    06. Oct, 2009

    Ok, well here’s my opinion. Salmon farming (and fish farming for that matter) started because there was an opportunity due to two things:

    #1 – market demand for fish is growing
    #2 – wild fishery collapses under market pressure

    The fact is, wild fishery collapsed in Europe decades (or more) ago – long before salmon farming started. Farming started because the wild salmon were all but gone. Our community of Klemtu is the same – our wild fishery stopped many years ago – long before we started salmon farming.

    Before you “attempt to help people begin to educate themselves”, I would suggest you educate yourself on the subject first. I’m sure you wouldn’t appreciate the some lack of courtesy shown to your livelihood.

    To suggest that people boycott the product I produce (and many other people in my community) for a living is rude – plain and simple. Ask many people many questions and rely a little less on “google” as research. Our community did exactly that and feel comfortable with what we do. There is a risk, no doubt. I believe that risk is being well managed. There is also a benefit – both to our people and to the wild stocks (allowing them to recover after years of overfishing).

    Say “hi” to all the wild cows and wild chickens in Edmonton for us.

  5. My Opinion

    01. Nov, 2009

    First let me say,Outstanding footage..beautiful creature.

    Minds like parachutes truely work best when kept open..but when we only see on a one way street…we have problems. I can see both realities…bottom line is…..Look at this earth..wherever man has been there is ruins of one form or another.
    Saddest problem of all is we have TOO MANY people “cause” “effect “is WE NEED MORE.
    Peace and love and practice birth control.


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