White bear cub
Photo by Kathy Jenkins/Whistler-Blackcomb

Experts puzzled by white bear cub discovered in Whistler

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There’s lots of excitement surrounding the newest addition to Whistler’s bear population, but there are questions too.

The white-coated cub, which is around five months old, has been spotted exploring the region with its mother, a well-known black bear who’s lived in Whistler for the past four to five years.

The cub was first discovered two weeks ago by Whistler tour guide Kathy Jenkins. It was then spotted a few days later by Whistler-Blackcomb’s environmental planning manager, Arthur De Jong, who managed to snap a few photos of the cub and its mother together.

Photo by Whistler-Blackcomb/Arthur De Jong

Michael Allen, an independent researcher who studies black bears in the Sea to Sky Corridor, says he’s never seen anything like it.

“After 23 years of research, I have seen cubs ranging black, reddish brown, chocolate brown to blonde (after summer bleaching of coat) but never have I seen in this population, a cub with pelage this light to almost white,” he wrote on Whistler-Blackcomb’s site.

According to reports, biologists are currently trying to determine whether the cub is an albino or Kermode bear, also commonly known as a “spirit bear.”

Although both are the result of recessive genes, an albino has no pigmentation in their body, while a Kermode bear has a white coat, but retains some pigmentation in its eyes and nose.

Photo by Whistler-Blackcomb/Arthur De Jong

Although De Jong told CBC that experts are leaning toward albino, because the cub doesn’t have a black nose or any pigmentation the way a Kermode bear would, Allen isn’t convinced. If it is a spirit bear, it would be the furthest south the species has ever been found. Typically they reside on British Columbia’s north and central coasts.

What we do know for sure is that this cub is unique, which conservation officer Simon Gravel says could create problems for the bear.

“It’s a special bear and will attract a lot of attention,” he told the Vancouver Sun. “The biggest threat to him is human curiosity.”

That’s why Gravel wants to remind people to stay away from the cub, as you should with any bear, and keep it wild.

“Don’t follow the cub or try to approach it to get a selfie. It’s absolutely a bad thing for bears to get comfortable with humans.”

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