In February 2016, the Great Bear Rainforest received a welcome announcement from the BC government. 85 percent of the old-growth forest would be forever protected from industrial logging.
Fog Shrouded Forest
Later the same year, another boost: the 12,000 square mile forest was admitted to an esteemed network of forest conservation programs, the ‘Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy’.
Of course none of this matters to the wildlife that makes it’s home in this pristine, ecologically significant region on Canada’s northwest coast: grizzlies, black bears, bald eagles, and whales.
The elusive coastal wolf is also found here, a subspecies of wolf that survives on a marine diet of salmon and barnacles.
But if there was one animal that has become the de facto face of the Great Bear Rainforest, it is the rare white ‘Spirit Bear’, or ‘Kermode Bear’.
Of special significance to the indigenous people of the region, spirit bears are actually black bears with a rare gene that gives them their white colour. There are approximately 400 spirit bears in the wild, and they exist only in the Great Bear Rainforest.
My husband Rob and I joined a small group of like-minded people aboard the sailboat ‘Ocean Light II’ to experience the Rainforest. Each morning we awoke to spectacular fog that shrouded the forested islands, with the silence broken only by a the blow of a humpback whale or a chatty raven.
A Spirit Bear Encounter
With the permission of the Gitga’at people, we took a Zodiac boat to Gribbell Island with the hopes of a spirit bear sighting. We were rewarded with the presence of a white male with a scarred face, who arrived in his salmon fishing grounds rather unceremoniously.
With her cub nearby, a mother black bear darted from the forest to send Kermode a message: this was her stretch of the river and she was not about to share it. The scuffle between the two lasted only seconds, but it was a spectacular show of nature at it’s finest.
With a fresh scratch on his nose, the spirit bear shrugged it off and lumbered downstream to catch a tasty salmon.
In the days that followed, the Rainforest treated us to sightings of grizzlies, bald eagles, fin whales, orcas, hundreds of humpbacks, and the rare coastal wolf.
The wildlife left us exhilarated, hopeful, and thankful. After all, we were guests in their world. The way it should be.
About the Photographer
Sandy Sharkey is a wildlife photographer and writer, specializing in wild horses. You can see her gallery at http://www.sandysharkey.com where you can purchase prints of her work.