BC Grizzly Bears

Want to learn some facts about BC costal grizzlies?

Vancouver Island grizzly bear

On our whales and bears workshop we were able to spend time with this male grizzly bear. We were on a whale and wildlife tour photographing a family of 4 transient Orcas. There was a call over the radio of a bear swimming across the Discovery pass from the mainland to Vancouver Island. I have heard of grizzlies travelling over in the past but never had the chance to see one. As we arrived at the location we saw the bear get out of the water and start foraging around for food.

Let’s give you a little background on grizzly bears in BC. In 2017 Grizzly bear trophy hunts were banned by a law put in place with the NDP party in BC. This was purely based on scientific evidence there is a decline in numbers. It is said there are currently 15000 grizzly bears walking the province and its currently not looking good for them. In the south-east region, they have some of the most plentiful numbers of the total population. The year prior they discovered out of all the bears that passed only 40% were from hunting. The rest is a curiosity of the unknown, scientist went out into the field documenting patterns of bears and eating habits to try and figure out what is happening.

Coastal bears along the passages and straits are experiencing their own food struggles themselves. When a bear is young a mother will take its cubs to a food rich environment to not only supply for the cubs, but regain her strength after nursing in hibernation. These areas also come with great risk, exposing young cubs to large hungry males can mean loss of cubs if food supply is low. Let’s face it, this is just the way the animal kingdom works. Sub adult males can be chased out of this area really fast, 2-3-year-old bears are on their own now. And imprinting on mom’s migration path is all they know; some moms will tolerate if they keep their distance from new cubs. But large males will have nothing to do with them as they want as much food for themselves.

Food sources along the shores are not as plentiful as they once were. Bears are coming out of hibernation looking much skinnier than the norm. Spring food is comprised of new growth shoots on plants and roots, specific berries and any type of amphipods. As the season transitions berry bushes overlap in growth and bears look for the next source of food. All this food is imperative to not so much maintain weight but to make sure there is enough nutrience for muscle mass and connective tissue. Once bears get into the late summer early fall they go into a state called hyperphagia. This is when a bear consumes massive amounts of food, eating up to 90 lbs of food a day is not uncommon. In this stage, they turn all this food into fat reserves needed for winter hibernation. Females must retain 20% or higher fat reserves for the body to allow her to have cubs.

In the past years salmon runs have been on the decline for many species. For this specific male in the photo his feeding area in the fall has suffered change due to man and the environment. A spot on the river has shut off a water source in a Y not allowing the proper flow for salmon. Logs being dumped in the estuary streams have caused silting in the river making it difficult to see fish during fall hunting, as well not making an appealing river for fish to spawn in. Banks have fell into the water loosing undercut characteristics that salmon like to pool in. Currently there has been some rehabilitation on the river to help sustain this food source for the bears.

So, it is just possible that this bear is looking for food in the mid-summer because he knows in previous years the quantity was just not there to sustain the amount of food he needs. Grizzly bears are also opportunists, they will move from their territory to look for food. This is likely the reason why this guy made his way across a fast-moving body of water in search of food. We can only hope field studies and help from the DFO in rehabilitation of many streams and rivers in BC can help make a difference for the grizzlies of the future.

Thanks for taking the time to read todays post!

Vancouver Island Grizzly bear