Black Bears

Our Bear watching season is now wrapping up so we decided to take a look back at one of our favourite animals here on the coast:

Black Bear FactsAdult Tofino black bear

Currently there are only black bears on Vancouver Island. There have been a few grizzly bears which have swam over from the mainland, however research has suggested that they are not a reproducing population here.

Black Bears vs. Grizzly Bears

Colour  should not be considered a reliable distinction; Black bears can be black (most Vancouver Island bears), blue-black, dark brown, brown, grey, cinnamon, or white (Kermode, or Spirit Bear—a rare recessive gene—not albino). Grizzlies can be anywhere from blond to black.

The Size of the bear is also not dependable; although grizzlies do tend to be bigger, size varies a lot between individuals (males tend to be larger than females)

Shoulder Hump: When standing on all fours on flat ground, the highest point on a grizzly is its shoulder hump (large muscles for digging). The highest point on a Black Bear is its rear.  Black bears do not have a large shoulder hump, although they may appear to have one if they are facing downhill or standing with their front legs on high objects such as a log.

Ears and Facial Profile: All young bears tend to have larger ears relative to head size. Grizzly bears tend to have smaller, rounder ears spaced further apart. Black bears tend to have larger, taller ears. Grizzlies have a “dish-shaped” face; Black Bears have a straight nose.

Front Claws: Grizzly bears have longer, lighter, not as sharp claws. Up to 10cm, or 4 inches (used for digging) Black Bear claws are shorter, rounder, darker, sharper claws. 3 to 4cm, or 1–11/2 inches (used for climbing trees)

Size: Male Black Bears range 60–300 kg  (130–660 lbs),  and up to 7 ft long (nose to ‘tail’). Female Black Bears range 40–180 kg (90–400 lbs) with the largest black bear on record was 400kg, or 880 lbs

Territories: Black Bear male may cover 100–475km2 (40–180mi2) while the female may cover 20–300km2 (8–115mi2)

Black bear cub on a Tofino shoreline

Age: Black Bears can live up to 20 or 30 years in the wild. In captivity, over 40 is not unheard of. Cub mortality is 50%. Bears are typically in good health and are rarely sick with most mortalities being caused by humans.

Food: Bears are omnivores, eating mostly plant material. Meat makes up 10–15% of their diet (includes fish, insects, and some mammals) and in this area we look for them at low tide, as they tend to be scavengers. They look in the exposed intertidal zone for rock crabs, small fish, mussels, barnacles, and pretty much anything else they come across. In the forests, they will eat berries (especially salmon berries), insects, vegetation (inc. herbs), nuts, and occasionally small mammals.

Hibernation: for bears on Vancouver Island tends to be short, due to mild the winters. They tend to sleep for 2 months, from Jan–Feb. Sometimes getting up to feed as they are not in a deep sleep. In preparation, they can feed up to 20 hours a day, consuming 15,000–20,000 calories.

Reproduction: Bears experience delayed Implantation when mating, which usually occurs between May and mid-July. The gestation period is approximately 6–8 weeks. There can be a delay of 6 months before birth, as fertilized eggs will not implant unless the mother bear has a sufficient store of body fat, which ensures the population will not grow unless there is enough food to support more bears. Maturity happens at 3–4 years (males sometimes younger), with litters every 2 years.

Birth/Number of Young: Cubs are born during hibernation, in Jan/Feb. and tend to be the size of squirrels (or about 1/10 the size of human babies). After nursing all winter they emerge at approximately 2–4 kg (4–9lbs). The litter size is commonly 2 cubs (but can be anywhere between 1–4, or more) and will usually stay with the mother through the first winter. By the second summer most bears become independent of their mother.

Senses: Smell is by far their best sense and is used to find food and mates, identify cubs, and avoid danger. A bears sense of smell is about 100x better than humans and can detect smells from miles and miles away. Bears will communicate socially through scent by marking (backscratching on trees etc) and excretions (urine and scat). Their hearing is excellent allowing them to hear high pitches like dogs, that exceed human frequency range and sensitivity. Eyesight in daylight is comparable to humans and they can see in colour. At night they see much better than us. With green Eyes for Night –  like dogs and cats, they have a protective layer on the black of the eye (the tapetum) that reflects light back through the retina a second time, to improve night vision.

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