By Hannah Stevens @Hannahshewans
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A result of a recessive gene, only one in ten black bears are born white as both parents must carry the gene to produce a light coloured cub.
Photographer Julie Picardi undertook the long journey to Klemtu’s Spirit Bear Lodge - one of the many remote islands that make up the Great Bear Rainforest - with her husband Jim to try their luck at catching a Spirit Bear on film.
The 55-year-old photographer said: “No guarantees were offered that we would see any bears at all, let alone the elusive, mystical Spirit Bear, but reading scattered tales from those who had encountered this elusive bear inspired us to venture on this journey.”
Up at dawn, the duo took water taxis captained by First Nation elders to a small boulder lined cove to wait for the Spirit Bear.
Julie said: “As if on cue, far across the cove, we saw a medium sized, white animal slowly, nonchalantly making his way out of the forest and down towards the water.
“His pace was agonisingly slow, but gradually he came closer until finally he was within range of our long lens.
“Without making eye contact, he went about his business of foraging for his breakfast, granting us a few prized moments of observation before disappearing again into the forest.”
The indigenous tribes of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais consider the Spirit Bear to be a magical creature.
Picardi said: “The Raven and the Spirit Bear are held in reverence by the First Nations People.
“It has been passed down through thousands of years that the Raven, revered as the creator, is said to have made a deal with the black bear, that every tenth bear born would be white as a reminder of the past Ice Age when the earth was cold, unforgiving and frozen in white.”
Moving on, the group trekked to Steep Creek where elevated rainfall had allowed more salmon to begin the final leg of their journey upstream to spawn - where the bears were waiting for them.
Julie said: “We photographed a big black bear with reddish-brown markings on his coat whom we eventually named Snoozy. Snoozy consumed so many fish he was compelled to take a nap, like we often do after a huge holiday feast.
“All was calm as black bears came and went, not paying us or the other male bears any attention, until a sow appeared with her young, anxious cub.
“Too little to accompany his mother into the water the mama bear fished quickly and efficiently, knowing that each time she left her cub on the boulders, he was in danger from the big male bears.”
To avoid causing the mother bear any more stress, the group moved on quickly and left the bears fishing in peace.
The photographer added: “Our day was almost at its end as we headed back towards the cove where the beautiful Kermode bear had made his debut earlier that morning. Sitting among the rocks again, waiting for our boat, the greatest moment of our entire trip occurred - the Spirit Bear returned!
“This time, he came very close to us, too close actually, as if he wanted to join our little party.
“We would have loved to made friends with this gentle beast whom we nicknamed Winnie but, as wildlife photographers, we knew this would be detrimental to his well-being.
“And so our guide, in low soothing tones, shooed him away. With a genuinely confused expression present in his eyes, he widened his berth around us.
“After loading our gear and ourselves onto the boat, we watched the bear on the shore and, in return, the bear watched out departure.
“It was if some sort of understanding passed between us - he knew our group wanted nothing but to see him live and thrive on his island.”
Enamoured by the sight of the bears, Picardi hopes her images will reinforce the importance of protecting animal’s natural environments.
She continued: “We alone are responsible for making informed decisions to protect Mother Earth, so that our grandchildren can experience the Great Bear Rainforest in its original form as it has remained for thousands of years before.
“It truly is one of the last great places on earth.”