Spirit bears are white or cream due to a rare gene variation responsible for melanin production

By Georgia Slater
February 20, 2020 03:16 PM

This photographer recently had a bear-y lucky encounter while fishing in British Columbia, Canada.

Last October, Steven Rose came across a spirit bear — a rare white bear with an estimated 400 or less of its kind left in the wild — while exploring the Great Bear Rainforest, according to Discover Wildlife.

Rose was able to capture several shots of the animal in its habitat as the bear caught hold of fish and moved through a shallow river.

“The bears can be seen cleverly digging up the eggs laid by the salmon by clawing away the sand on the riverbed to expose the eggs, then gulping them up,” Rose told the Daily Mail about his stunning photos.

According to Discover Wildlife, a spirit bear — or a Kermode bear — is a subspecies of the North American black bear. This uncommon animal is not albino, rather the species has a rare gene variation that causes them to be white or cream in color.

Credit: Steven Rose/Caters News

Spirit bears are often found on the Canadian islands of Gribbell, Princess Royal and Roderick, where one in ten bears are part of this infrequent species.

The species is considered sacred to the indigenous Tsimshian people, who called the spirit bear “moskgm’ol” meaning “white bear.”

Credit: Steven Rose/Caters News

Since the spirit bear is so rare, the government of British Columbia outlawed the hunting of the species. However, as hunting of grizzly and black bears in the Great Bear Rainforest is still allowed, a hunter might kill a black bear that carries the infrequent recessive gene to create the white animal.