From the Field - Alaska's Spirit Bear

Reported by Wilderness Legacy Expedition Guide Andrew M:


Before we had even reached Alaska, we knew we were in for a special trip. Already the guests and crew were excited for the longer trip (our usual itinerary is usually 7 days while this Inside Passage northbound trip was booked for 12).

By just day two, without even stepping a foot off the boat, everyone aboard was wondering how things could possibly get any better. As we sailed through British Columbia, we spotted several humpback whales, and our orcas decided to make their appearance known to us as well - a pod of 7 swam by us.

The day was off to a great start and we continued on to Princess Royale Island. Princess Royale is known as the home of the Spirit Bear, a variation of the North American Black Bear with a recessive gene that makes the bears fur white. While some might think white fur would stand out in the world of animals making it an undesirable trait for the bears that should have been bred out during natural selection, research has shown that Spirit Bears may have an advantage over their darker counterparts when fishing during the day.

While we traveled north people kept asking if this creature even existed, and if so, what are the chances we would actually see it? Our expedition leader, Dawn, had even offered up a small cash prize to anyone, guest or crew, that could find her a Spirit Bear. But the day continued, and our prize seemed to have eluded us once again.

As we pulled into the cove of Butedale, our Second Mate Alex*, like an eagle eyeing its prey, spotted the elusive creature we had all been looking for.

We got to enjoy our Spirit Bear viewing from the comfort of the bow of the Legacy as the bear went along doing bear things. Moseying from the grassy hillside, munching on grasses and sedges, towards the intertidal zone where it enjoyed a calcium filled meal of barnacles.

It was a great bear viewing, only made better by knowing we had all witnessed a very rare event.

As we turned out of the bay, a tugboat with a barge had come from behind us. We had passed the tug and barge earlier in the day but due to our stop and bear visit, the tug had caught up. The tug captain had overheard our radio communication about the Spirit Bear and had to come into the bay to see it himself. The tug captain had been sailing these waters for 45 years. Turns out, as he told us as he slowly entered the bay behind us, that he had only seen one other Spirit Bear in his time.

On to Alaska, the Great Land, we continued to sail.

 *Alex eventually turned down her cash prize, but did accept payment in the form of chocolate!