You can find them on the mountainside munching away, across the golf courses lazing in the sun or even in the trees teaching their young to climb. So just what kind of bears are they? Black bears or, Ursus americanus. Don’t let the name fool you though, these bears aren’t just black, they vary in colour from black to light brown. They are smaller in size than BC’s other famous bear species, the Grizzly bear. The Black bear is a far more common sight in Whistler, with Grizzlies only been occasionally spotted in the backcountry - they prefer to stay far away from civilization. Although the bears share a common habitat, the two species split common ancestry over 5 million years ago.
Black bears’ incredible ability to hibernate comes down to their kidneys, reabsorption process and the ability to slow their heart rate down to approximately 50 beats per day. However, their hibernation isn’t as cut and dry as one day they go to sleep and then a few months later they wake up, it is a staged process - so they can appear a bit dazed in the beginning. Once awake they begin to eat, and that is pretty much what you can find them doing all summer long. Black bears are mainly omnivores and their diets can consist of vegetation, berries, insects and sometimes fish depending on location. Throughout the season their main goal is to pack on the pounds by fall so they’re once again prepared for hibernation. The females are one of few animals that experience ‘delayed implantation’ and only carry pregnancy to full-term if they’ve gained enough weight to sustain themselves and the cubs, otherwise they reabsorb the embryos. A mother bear can give birth to her cubs while still in the den and nurse throughout the hibernation period.
So what are your chances of seeing a Black bear in Whistler? Pretty good. So good in fact we have an incredible organization called Bear Smart dedicated to helping people and bears live safely in harmony. We highly recommend checking out their tips before your visit. It will also help you make sense of the bear proof garbage and recycling cans around the village!
Interested in learning more about bears? Ask your guide on tour and they’ll be happy to share, they might even point out a bear den for you!