Photo by Viv Klingbeil for Calgary Herald.

Spotted in Calgary: spirit bear or white-phase bruin? 

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A trail cam set up at a cabin near Calgary caught glimpse of some unusual wildlife for the area: a white bear

Could it be Alberta’s first known spirit bear? An escaped polar bear? A black bear bleached from sunbathing?

According to at least one expert, the ivory-coloured bear is likely just a white-phase black bear.

Jon Jorgenson, a former wildlife biologist at Alberta Environment and Parks, debunked the spirit bear rumour that had some locals excited in an interview with the Calgary Herald.

“[They’re] surprisingly not all that uncommon in the Bow Valley and K-Country,” said Jorgenson, referring to the two mountainous areas just west of Calgary.

Despite its name, a black bear’s fur can be black, brown, cinnamon, blond or white depending on the region. In areas where there are open meadows without much coverage, bears can have light-coloured fur to reduce heat stress in open sunlight and to help them camouflage from predators.

Kermode bears, also known as spirit bears, are a subspecies of black bears that get their white coats from a double recessive gene. As their official provincial mammal of British Columbia, spirit bears live along a set of coastal islands. Because spirit bears have dark noses and paws, they’re not actually albino.

While a spirit bear has yet to make its way over to Alberta, white-phase bears are still incredible to see.