Tofino Wildlife

Over the comming weeks West Coast Aquatic Safaris will present a compilation of information on the wildlife of the Pacific Rim as well as some of the flora and fauna. We begin with the Black Bear

Black Bear Facts

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

Black Beaars vs. Grizzly Bears

Colour  should not be considered a reliable distinction; Black bears can be black (most Van.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.

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. Grizzlies 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: Grizzlies 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), up to 7 ft. 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 femail femalemay cover  20-300km2 (8-115mi2)

Age: Black Bears can live up to 20 or 30 years in the wild.  In captivity can be over 40. 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) – tend to be scavengers In this area, we look for them at low tide.  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 (incl. herbs), nuts, and occasionally small mammals.

Hibernation: Tends to be short hibernation here on Vancouver Island due to mild 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: Delayed Implantation with mating usually occuring between May and mid-July and a gestation period of approximately 6-8 weeks. There can be a delay of 6 months before birth, as fertilized eggs will not implant unless mother has a sufficient store of body 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 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 usually 2 cubs (but can be 1-4, or more and the will usually stay with mother through first winter, and are independent by the second summer.

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 marking and urine/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.

We will continue tomorrow with Black Bear Myths and what to do if you see a bear.

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