The spirit bear is a unique subspecies of the North American black bear in which approximately one in every 10 bears is white or cream-coloured. Some have orange or yellow coloration on their backs. Other Kermodes are all black. The scientific name is Ursus americanus kermodei, named after a naturalist and museum curator named Frances Kermode of the British Columbia Provincial Museum. The term “Spirit Bear” is possibly attributed to First Nations tradition, which held that the white bears were to be revered and protected. Today the Tsimshian people call it “moskgm’ol,” which simply means “white bear.”
Kermode bears may have evolved on the coast in the last 10,000 years from black bear stock that became isolated from interior black bears more than 300,000 years ago.
The white colour may be due to inheritance of a single gene for hair colour, but other more complex mechanisms may be involved. Further genetic research is needed.