World Class Wildlife of Great Bear Rainforest

Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest. One of the most unique and biodiverse ecosystems in the world. Located on British Columbia’s Pacific Coast, this unspoiled temperate forest teems with life and is home to an incredible array of both flora and fauna. But it is the megafauna, the wildlife, both on land and at sea, that truly makes this region famous. 

This Great Bear Rainforest ecosystem offers sanctuary to some of the most iconic and rare animals on Earth. It’s in this amazing corner of the world where you can find spirit bears (white-coated black bears with rare genetics), grizzly bears, coastal wolves, humpback and killer whales, and so much more.

In this post we’re taking a good look at some amazing wildlife found in Great Bear Rainforest:

Spirit Bears

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Spirit Bears are a subspecies of the black bear that is found only in the Great Bear Rainforest. They get their name from the fact that they are often entirely white or cream-colored. These bears are incredibly rare, with estimates suggesting that there may be only around 500 in the wild. Hunting spirit bears is illegal in British Columbia.

The average weight of a spirit bear is half a pound to one pound when they are born, and 150-300 pounds when they are fully grown. The typical body length of a spirit bear, from nose to tail, is four to six feet. These bears usually stand between 2.5 to 3 feet tall at the shoulder. Spirit bears are mostly solitary animals, except for females who have cubs. Male spirit bears have large home ranges that overlap with smaller ranges of several other bears.

The spirit bear is an important part of Indigenous mythology and is seen as a sacred creature. For generations, Coastal First Nations of the Great Bear Rainforest have lived in harmony with these magnificent animals – respecting their power and understanding their importance to the health of the forest.

Black Bears

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Black bears are the most common type of bear in the Great Bear Rainforest. They are typically black, although their fur can sometimes have a brownish tint.  Black bears are relatively small compared to other types of bears, and they are not known to be aggressive unless provoked.

These bears usually weigh 115–270 kg when fully grown and are approximately 150–180 cm long from nose to tail. They are relatively agile and can run about 45 km per hour. A black bear’s diet consists mainly of plants and berries, but they will also eat insects, fish, and small mammals.

Black bears don’t fully hibernate; instead, they go into a groggy sleep state. They gain weight as winter approaches and sleep for approximately 125 days, starting in October and lasting until May. The body’s temperature dips from 38°C to 31–34°C as well as their metabolic rate. They also breathe slower in this state.

During this time, black bears do not eat, drink, or defecate. They typically den in hollow trees, caves, or dense thickets. Females usually give birth during their winter sleep and their cubs stay with them for about 16 – 17 months.

Grizzly Bears

Photo credit: Tim Milne

Grizzly bears are the largest type of bear found in the Great Bear Rainforest.  They are usually brown or blond, with a distinctive hump on their shoulders. The hump is caused by the large muscles in their front legs. Because of their body structure and extensive fur coat, grizzly bears can appear heavier than they actually are.

Female bears typically weigh between 100 and 150 kilograms, though males can grow to be up to a massive 500 kilograms! They can stand up to 8 feet tall when on their hind legs. Grizzly bears are solitary animals, but they will sometimes congregate in areas where food is abundant. Coastal grizzlies diet is seasonal, consisting of migrating salmon, sedge grass and a variety of plant and animal protein.

Grizzly bears in Canada hibernate for 5 to 8 months out of the year. To get adequate snow accumulation, they typically create a den on slopes that face north. Within the den, expectant females give birth to 1 to 3 cubs. Cubs stay with their mothers for the first 2-3 years of their lives, until they are big enough to fend for themselves.

During hibernation, grizzly bears do not eat, drink, or defecate. Their heart rate slows from 40 beats per minute to just 8 beats per minute. This allows them to conserve energy and survive off their fat reserves until spring arrives. When they emerge from their dens, grizzly bears are often quite hungry and will eat whatever they can find.

Coastal Wolves

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Coastal wolves are a subspecies of gray wolf that is found along the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest. Compared to other gray wolves, coastal wolves are substantially smaller and are typically darker in color. They often weigh about 75–80 pounds and are incredibly agile. Coastal wolves can swim between the islands and the mainland, even covering 7.5 miles to reach a new location.

These wolves are proficient swimmers and often hunt for their food in the water. Their diet consists mostly of fish, particularly salmon, but they have also been known to eat clams, barnacles, whale or seal carcasses, and otters. When hunting in the water, coastal wolves use their swimming skills to their advantage, using the tides and currents to help them catch their prey. On land, they typically hunt in packs, using their speed and agility to chase down their quarry. Coastal wolves are an important part of the ecosystem and play a vital role in keeping the population of marine life in check. These wolves are very social animals, living in packs of up to 30 individuals.

Humpback Whales

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Humpback whales are a type of whale that is frequently seen in the waters off the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest. Their unique back hump earned them the name. These creatures can grow to be up to 60 feet long and weigh up to 40 tons. Humpback whales’ tails have a maximum width of 18 feet. They are known for their impressive breaching behavior, where they lunge out of the water and twist their bodies in the air.

The lifespan of a humpback whale can reach 80 to 90 years. They travel up to 8,000 kilometers in water between their breeding and feeding regions, making their migrations some of the longest of any mammal. These whales have an enormous daily food consumption of up to 300 pounds. Shrimps and small fish are their main source of food. When a male humpback whale is singing, you can hear it up to 32 kilometers away.

We hope you enjoy reading and learning about the different wildlife of Great Bear Rainforest. If you are looking for an incredible wildlife experience, be sure to add the Great Bear Rainforest to your bucket list!

For more information about this pristine wilderness, visit Province of British Columbia website or check out our complete travel guide to Great Bear Rainforest.

FAQ – The 3 Most Commonly Asked Questions By Visitors

When do bears in Great Bear Rainforest eat salmon?

Bears in the Great Bear Rainforest eat salmon primarily during the fall salmon run, which typically peaks in September or October. This is when the largest number of salmon are arriving in the region, and thus when the bears have the most opportunities to catch them in local rivers.

What type of bear is a spirit bear?

Spirit bears are a subspecies of the black bear that is found only in Great Bear Rainforest. They are distinguished by their white or cream-colored fur, dark nose pads, almost white claws, and brown eyes. They may look like polar bears but they are absolutely not.

Do spirit bears hibernate?

Yes, spirit bears do hibernate. During the winter months, they can sleep for up to 7 months. Their heart rates slow down during this time to allow them to conserve energy and survive off their fat reserves until spring arrives.

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