LOOK: Extremely Rare ‘Spirit Bear’ Spotted in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

by Shelby Scott

Black bear sightings are not uncommon in the United States. However, “spirit bear” sightings—black bears that bear white or blonde coats—are much less common. That fact makes a recent recorded sighting in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that much more remarkable. See a photo of the mystical bruin below.

According to MLive, the spirit bear has been living in the wilderness populating the state’s western Upper Peninsula. Per the outlet, the sighting marks only the fifth time a spirit bear has been confirmed outside of British Columbia. This officially makes it a one-in-a-million bear. Additionally, the sighting also signifies the first time in recorded Michigan history that a spirit bear has been confirmed.

Michigan’s Spirit Bear: The Stats

The Michigan spirit bear isn’t nearly as remarkable in size as in appearance. This particular spirit bear, a male, weighs just 100 pounds. As such, he definitely leans toward the small side. Male black bears can weigh anywhere between 125 to 500 pounds.

Further, while photos illustrate the spirit bear as a genetically rare white animal, he actually boasts flecks of cinnamon-colored fur along his head and neck.

The images show the animal feeding at a bait pile as state hunters prepare for the upcoming bear hunting season.

Given the rarity with which these bears occur outside of British Columbia, Lynn Rogers, a renowned bear researcher at the Wildlife Research Institute in Minnesota, expressed serious excitement about the discovery.

Speaking about the spirit bear’s genetics, Rogers said, “It’s a double-recessive gene. And if there are fewer of those genes here, it’s going to be rare that you get a double-recessive combination.”

The “double-recessive” gene combination means that both the male and female bear in the pairing must both carry the recessive white or blonde gene. If so, this means it’s more likely for the offspring to boast a white or blonde coat.

Aside from novelty, the white black bears are unique compared to their darker cousins as they are also extremely “adept” salmon fishers. While many black bears become skilled fishermen overtime, the white coat of the spirit bears functions as camouflage on the water, its fur blending with the clouds overhead and enabling the predator to get nearer more salmon.

Currently, as rare as the spirit bear is in the United States, there are no limitations or restrictions protecting these magnificent creatures.

Scientists Hope to Uncover Any Gene Distinctions Between American and British Columbian Populations

Whether or not there are protections against killing spirit bears in the States, scientists hope to learn about any distinctions between the American bears and their British Columbian cousins. Speaking about the potential for future research, wildlife biologist and large carnivore expert for Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources Cody Norton said, “So very cool. Very beautiful animal.”

He further added, “Obviously, I’d love to actually see [the spirit bear]. If it did get harvested, we’d love to take a genetic sample and get to see if this is the same exact genetic mutation that is what is found in British Columbia in the remote bear population or if it’s something different.”

However, there’s also an upside, Norton said, to the creature surviving the upcoming bear season. And that’s the arrival of more American spirit bears.