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Face to Face with a Spirit Bear

In September 2014 we made our first visit to the Great Bear Rainforest on Canada’s Pacific Coast. We didn’t know a lot about this region, as it’s not very strong in international tourism yet, but this fact just made it more attractive to us. This unique landscape is one of the last contiguous large cold rain forests in the world, and so we were sure to be able to experience a wide variety of animals and plants here.

Two humpback whales
The spouts of two humpback whales while cruising the Great Bear Sea

As we arrived at the Spirit Bear Lodge in Klemtu where we wanted to start our bear excursions, rain was pouring but we found it very befitting for a rainforest. As we also had heard about the Spirit Bears, which are white Black Bears, we were very curious to see if we would get even a glimpse of these rare animals.

When we left for the tour the next morning, the sky was gray, but it was dry. So we drove about an hour with our small boat until we arrived at one of the many small islands that make up this region.

What we saw was just breathtaking – Salmon jumped all around, Eagles circled above us, on the horizon we saw Humpback Whales. We just felt like we’d been thrown into a fairyland.

Salmon jumping out of the water
Salmon migrating upstream in the Great Bear Rainforest

After we had climbed ashore, we felt this place was something special. We were immersed into a silence which was not oppressive, but made us feel reverent.

Just moments after we had reached the place that should be our observation post for the day, we were greeted by a huge Black Bear. He calmly ate a salmon, just about 20 meters in front of us.

It was amazing how close this animal came to us without feeling disturbed by our presence.

Black bear eating a salmon
A black bear eating a salmon in front of us!

But then we held our breath – from the forest came a Spirit Bear!

His white fur shone downright against the dark trees. He was not as massive as his black conspecific and, despite his color, he had no resemblance to a Polar Bear.

When he noticed us he was attentive, but wasn’t afraid.

He started slowly to move up to us – at first very hesitant, then more and more resolutely.

A curious Spirit Bear standing up and looking at the photographer
A curious Spirit Bear standing up

Every few steps he stopped to look at us, and once even stood on his hind legs to have a better view. He was one of the most beautiful creatures we’d ever seen, and nothing threatening came out of him.

We sat there motionless and watched spellbound as he came closer. Soon I had put the camera aside as I was too fascinated by this beautiful animal. After some time he had approached within almost five meters of me. Then he paused and looked me calmly straight in the eye.

I will never forget this feeling for all my life. I would have never dreamed of a moment so intense and peaceful! After he watched me well enough, he turned away and walked slowly down to the river to fish. My heart was racing. I was indescribably happy. We watched as he skillfully caught salmon from the raging water and then disappeared into the deep forest with his prey again.

A white bear fishing for salmon
The Spirit Bear fished for salmon right in front of us

He came back several times that day, and when we left his territory it was almost as if we were saying goodbye to an old friend.

We know that we will come back to the mysterious, magnificent forest of the Spirit Bears, because a part of us stayed there.

Luckily, I manage to get a short video of this amazing creature.

A spirit bear
This young bear showed no fear or concern about us, he was more into his salmon

This unique and pristine area is important for all of us, and it’s in danger. If you want to learn more about it, and if you want to take action to keep it safe, please visit the Pacific Wild website. Ian McAllister and his team are doing a great job to save the Great Bear Rainforest, and you will also find lots of wonderful pictures and stories about the area and its inhabitants. I met Karen McAllister during my visit, and really I have to say thank you for your kindness and your never-ending hard work! I also have to say thank you to the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association (CCCTA), which made this visit possible for us. – Elke Schlotmann

Elke Schlotmann is the writer behind Travel Elk travel blog.