albino bear
YouTube: BBC Earth

Albino Bears Are a Sight to Behold

Here are the bear facts on the rarest bruin color phase of all.

Most people tend to think of deer when they think of albino animals. But bears with a white coat do happen.

These "ghost bears" are incredibly rare, but they are amazing to see.

But how often does this happen? And what causes it?

Read on and we'll answer all of your questions regarding white bears.

True albino bears

For the purposes of this article, we're talking about true albino bears. Not polar bears or the Kermode bear, a North American black bear subspecies that lives in the Pacific Northwest.

The Kermode bear is found primarily along the coast of British Columbia. This Canadian subspecies often has a white phase, so this is what many people think of when they think of albino bears. But it is worth noting these bears are not true albinos. It's probably more accurate to describe them as leucistic because they have a recessive gene that causes a lack of pigmentation in their fur. The tribes of the First Nations group of Native Americans sometimes refer to the Kermode bear as a "Spirit Bear."

But this bear population also has normal colored members. The ones that do have normal-looking dark eyes and noses. Albinism results not only in white fur, but in pink eyes and noses too. But once again, it's a recessive gene that causes albinism. Most animals born with this recessive gene do not live long because the coloration is not the best suited for survival in the harsh wilds.

How rare are they?

So, how rare is a true albino bear? Well, it's rare enough that I couldn't find any definitive numbers online about how often it happens. One biologist in Pennsylvania was interviewed on the subject in 2015 and only noted that he had seen just four albino black bears in his 15 years on the job. Safe to say, they're pretty rare!

Probably even harder to find is an albino grizzly bear. I found at least one example of one online. Chris Genovali, the Executive Director of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation thought he had first spotted a Kermode bear on the British Columbia coastline in 2010. But a closer look through binoculars from the deck of a research ship revealed the bruin was in fact, a grizzly with pink eyes and a pink snout, making for an incredibly rare sighting.

At least one other true albino black bear was trapped by Montana Fish and Wildlife officials in 2009. The pink nose and eyes were unmistakable. The bear was later released into Glacier National Park.

Other than that, sightings of true albino bears seem to be a rarity limited only to video clips like the one of a white cub above, which often come with little or no context as to where they were taken or exactly what type of bear it was.

Even rarer than an albino grizzly or black bear would be an albino polar bear, which has become something of a joke on the internet. As weird as it sounds, there should be no reason a polar bear with albinism can't exist. And contrary to the joke, it would be pretty easy to tell due to the pink eyes and nose.

Examples of harvested bears

Albinos are even rarer when it comes to bear hunting. About the only other case of a true albino bear I can find is a black bear sow that was harvested in Pennsylvania on December 4, 2015. Jeremy Gross was hunting on private property in Columbia County when he spotted the white bear on a hillside.

A single shot brought the 138-pound white black bear down. It turned out the bear was quite well-known to the locals and had been seen with normal color phase bear cubs.. "When I got up to it my legs just locked up," Gross told a local newspaper. "Other members of our group came down and no one could believe it. It was surreal."

The worker at the bear check station couldn't believe it either. "It was a remarkable opportunity to see this bear," check station biologist Kevin Wenner told reporters. "It might be the only one I ever see."

If you see one, count yourself lucky

Most people consider it a special privilege to spot an elusive Kermode bear. It is estimated there are only around 500 of these white phase bears living in the Pacific Northwest. Which makes the odds on a true albino nearly impossible to speculate on.

Next time you're in bear country, have your camera ready. Just in case you ever spot a snow-white bear with pink eyes and a pink snout. That way you can prove you've witnessed one of the rarest sights mother nature can provide!

For more outdoor content from Travis Smola, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his Geocaching and Outdoors with Travis YouTube channels