It goes without saying that Vancouver Island is rich with wildlife. From whales and wolves to marmots and eagles – we’ve got it all. But did you know that there are an estimated 7000 black bears on Vancouver Island? This is one of the densest populations in the world.
We regularly see these incredible bears on our tours, and sometimes our staff even see them on the drive to work. So, without further ado, here’s 5 facts about the wonderful black bear!
1. Vancouver Island has its own subspecies of black bear
Black bears are a species of the bear family, Ursidae. Within the species, there are 16 unique subspecies or races. British Columbia has more subspecies of black bear than anywhere in the world. In this province alone, there are an astonishing 6 subspecies. This has to do with the glaciation of British Columbia 18,000 years ago, and the isolation of different black bear populations… But that’s a story for later.
Photo by Tony Austin Photography
Vancouver Island black bears (Ursus americanus vancouveri) are primarily found here on Vancouver Island and some nearby islands like the Discovery Islands. These bears are mostly black in colouration (yes, there can be different colourations, more on that below) and have large bodies. They weigh between 400-600lb, with males being larger.
2. They aren’t always black
While black bears tend to be black, different colourations are possible. For example, another subspecies of black bear is the cinnamon bear (Ursus americanus cinnamomum). Based on their name, you can guess what colouration they have. Their brown/red coat makes them resemble the much larger grizzly bear, but don’t be fooled – these aren’t even the same species. This study found that the cinnamon colouration is likely caused by a genetic variation similar to what causes albinism in humans!
Cinnamon bear, Vancouver Island. Photo by Andy Scheffler
Another remarkable colouration is that of the Kermode bear (Ursus americanus kermodei). You’ve probably heard their other name before: Spirit Bear. This subspecies can be found on the central to north coast of British Columbia, and 10-20% of the population have a striking white coat. While not albinism, the recessive mutation within the population causes melanin to not be produced. The rest of the population are black.
White Kermode bear and her black cub in the Great Bear Rainforest
3. They have a diverse diet
All black bears are omnivorous, meaning they eat both meat and plants. Vancouver Island black bears often forage on beaches, eating mussels, crabs, barnacles, and gunnels. We often see them foraging on beaches during our tours. In the fall months, they gather near rivers and streams to feed on spawning salmon. Their diet also includes berries, plant roots, grasses, and nuts, and insects. Nutritious and delicious!
Black bear foraging on a Vancouver Island beach. Photo by Andy Scheffler
4. Delayed implantation
Black bears on Vancouver Island tend to mate from June – July. However, the embryo doesn’t implant in the uterus until between October and November. This is called delayed implantation. Once implanted, the embryo begins to develop and cubs are born in January or February in winter dens. Females can have 1-4 cubs, but twins are most common.
When they’re born, the cubs weigh less than 1lb, and are hairless and blind. They nurse while mum continues to hibernate, and when they emerge from the den in the spring they weigh around 10lb. They’ll stay with mum until their second spring, and she’ll drive them away when she’s ready to mate again.
5. Threats they face are primarily caused by humans
The threats these incredible animals face are primarily caused by humans. Threats include hunting, logging, poaching, railway and highway traffic, development, and the decline of salmon stocks. Black bears are also attracted to improperly-handled waste, fruit trees, and beehives, causing bear-human conflict.
Unfortunately, a large amount of black bears that have been attracted these human-provided food sources end up in serious conflicts and have to be destroyed by conservation officers. The best way to avoid bear-human conflict on Vancouver Island is to lock up your garbage and bear-proof your properties.
Interested in seeing these incredible bears? Join us on our 7 Hour Big Animal Encounter tours from during our summer season. On this tour, we regularly search for black bears on the remote beaches!