National Geographic : 2011 Aug
Crunching across barnacle-encrusted boulders, Neasloss parts the curtain of the rain forest. Un- der the canopy everything turns so and muted. Lichen drips from hemlock, cedar, and yew branches. His rubber boots leave no print on the spongy ground, which is so green it appears as if the sky has let loose a snowfall of moss. Neasloss claims a spot under a hemlock tree and pulls his hood tight against the ceaseless rain. He saw a white bear near here recently, he says, though there's no guarantee it'll reap- pear. At a little past three, he points across the river. A white bear waddles down the riverbank. is bear's bigger and more con dent than the Gribbell Island bear. Fat rolls down its belly. It appears to be wearing a coat two sizes too large. It perches over a small pool, then lunges with both paws and comes up with a plump three- foot chum salmon. Researchers have recently proved that the spirit bear's white coat gives it an advantage when shing. Although white and black bears tend to have the same success rate a er dark--- when bears do a lot of their shing---scientists Reimchen and Dan Klinka from the University of Victoria noticed a di erence during the day- time. White bears catch salmon in one-third of their attempts. Black individuals are success- ful only one-quarter of the time. " e salmon are less concerned about a white object as seen from below the surface," Reimchen speculates. at may answer part of the question about why the white-fur trait continues to ourish today. If salmon are a coastal bear's primary fat and protein source, a successful female can feast on salmon to store more fat for winter, potentially increasing the number of cubs she can produce. As the rain continues to fall on Princess Royal Island, Neasloss and I watch the spirit bear feed on a bounty of salmon. When the pickings are this good, bears can turn nicky. Some eat only the sh head. Others may slit the belly and suck out the eggs. Some are gluttons. "I once saw a spirit bear eat 80 salmon at one sitting," Neasloss says. is bear prefers to dine privately. It turns with the salmon in its teeth and runs straight uphill to some unseen hideaway. Twenty min- utes later the bear returns, nabs another sh, and takes it into the forest. is goes on for hours, until daylight fades from the sky. j Two adult males tussle over a prime shing spot in a river. "Bear scraps are rare events," says Doug Neasloss, a Kitasoo/Xai'xais wildlife guide. " ere's a high potential for injury, so they avoid con ict if they can."