Why Michigan Hunters Remain Tight-Lipped About ‘Spirit Bear’ Sightings

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by Mike R Turner via Getty Images)

Picture a black bear. What did you imagine? A bear with black fur, right? Their appearance is literally in the name. But a black bear’s coat can actually be any one of a variety of colors, depending on their genetics and subspecies.

There’s the cinnamon bear, which has brown or red fur, the glacier bear, whose silvery coat appears almost blue, and, of course, the enchanting spirit bear, who at first glance looks like a polar bear but is actually a type of black bear.

Known as moksgm’ol, meaning “white bear,” spirit bears are sacred to the Indigenous people of the Great Bear Rainforest. According to native legend, spirit bears are capable of swimming deep underwater and leading humans to magical places. They were designed by the Creator as a reminder of the last ice age.

Why Some Outdoorsmen Keep Spirit Bears to Themselves

Though there’s no exact figure, wildlife experts estimate the spirit bear population is made up of less than 400 individuals. But being one of the rarest animals on earth doesn’t stop hunting enthusiasts from killing them.

That said, not all hunters shoot the rare bears when they see them – not with a weapon, at least. Some stick to shooting the bears with cameras. Those who spot spirit bears outside of their typical home of British Columbia, Canada, might not even tell anyone about the unbelievable encounter. Some of the best experiences are best kept as secrets.

For an anonymous hunter who spotted the same spectacular white bear twice in two years, telling others about the sighting was never even an option. Not even state wildlife officials.

“I never did bring it up to them because I didn’t want anyone to know about it,” he explained to M Live. “I wouldn’t even hardly tell anyone around up there. You don’t bring it up to hardly anyone. Yeah, I mean, it’s like seeing a 200-inch buck, okay? If I see one down here, I’m not going to probably even tell my dad.”

He saw the spirit bear in 2012 and just now thought it safe to share the pictures of the bear. “I thought it was a stuffed animal when I looked at it,” he said.

The DNR Doesn’t Keep Record of White Bears

Spirit bear sightings are kept so tightly under wraps that DNR wildlife biologist Cody Norton was astounded by the recent admissions. Because the DNR doesn’t track color variations of black bears, records of white bears in Michigan are virtually non-existent.

“Color isn’t necessarily something we track over time, or have good records on,” said Norton. “It’s more just really neat when it shows up.”

“Having this white bear this year, and then potentially other ones in the past show up in that same area… That certainly kind of leans towards how we’ve got some unique genetics over there that are producing these color variations,” he continued. “So, it’s super interesting and really cool to see.”