Bears are a common sight in Canada. In fact, Churchill in northern Manitoba is considered the world capital for a particular species. If bear watching in the wild is on your bucket list, then Canada is one of the best countries to do so.
The less you know about bears, the more likely you are to be afraid of them. – Linda Masterson in Living with Bears (pg 213)
It’s a known fact that the three types of bears in Canada are the grizzly, black and polar. They each have some obvious differences but also some common similarities. Did you know the black bear isn’t always black or that some parts of Canada are better for spotting the grizzly? Were you aware that there are sub-species?
If you’re heading to Canada soon and want to see some bears in the wild, you’ll need to know the difference between a grizzly and a black bear, a polar bear and a spirit bear, and a Kodiak bear and a cinnamon bear. Read more below to discover the differences (and similarities!).
Bear 1: The grizzly bear
While the name grizzly bear is used interchangeably with the brown bear, the grizzly is actually a sub-species of the brown bear. The brown bear family can be found across the northern hemisphere, however, the grizzly bear is the only one found in Canada and Alaska.
The grizzly is always mid-brown to black in colour and commonly sports blonde tips on its back fur. A pronounced hump appears on both their shoulders, which is the easiest way to tell the difference between a grizzly and black bear. A grizzly also has shorter ears than a black bear.
Where to spot grizzly bears: there are approximately 25,000 grizzly bears in Canada, making it the largest population per country in the world. If you want to see a grizzly on your Canada trip, you’ll have the most luck in the western provinces such as British Columbia and Alberta. Alaska also has a high population.
Bear 2: The Kodiak bear
The Kodiak bear has a big claim to fame in the animal kingdom: it’s the second biggest bear in the world, right after the polar bear. The native name given by the Alutiiq people in Alaska is taquka-aq, and their colour can range from blonde to orange to dark brown.
Where to spot them: The Kodiak bear is almost exclusively found on the islands of the Kodiak Archipelago in southwest Alaska.
Bear 3: The black bear
Commonly believed to always be black in colour, the black bear can actually be any shade from blonde through to black. It’s therefore easy to mistake them for grizzly bears though there are some key differences.
Black bears are typically smaller than grizzlies (though black bears can vary in size) and have no hump in their shoulders. They also have longer ears and a much straighter face, as well as much shorter claws. You can also find black bears across Canada – while grizzlies are more commonly found in the west – so if you spot a bear while on the east coast it’s most likely a black bear.
Where to spot them: black bears are the most common bear in Canada and, as mentioned, are found across the country. If you want to see a black bear that is black in colour you’ll have more luck in the eastern states, whereas the lighter varieties (including blonde) are more likely to be found on the western coast of British Columbia.
Bear 4: The spirit bear
Technically a sub-species of the black bear, but with a name like this, it demands a mention on this list. This blonde cutie is the official provincial mammal of British Columbia, and we’re in total agreement with whoever made that decision.
Where to spot them: the black bear family can be found across Canada, but the spirit bear is mainly found in British Columbia on the west coast. Gribbell Island on the north coast of British Columbia has one of the largest populations.
Bear 5: the cinnamon bear
Another subspecies of the black bear with a cute name: the cinnamon bear. Aptly named because of its reddish coat, this bear has a lot in common with the black bear and inherits its coat colour the same way humans inherit their hair colour.
Where to spot it: you’ll find the cinnamon bear along the western states of North America. In Canada, you’ll spot this bear hanging about Alberta and British Columbia. They are also mostly nocturnal.
Bear 6: the polar bear
Up in the northern provinces of Canada, if you look closely enough between the snow and the sky you’ll see the white allure of the polar bear. Unlike the black bear and grizzly bear, the polar bear is easy to tell apart from other bear species. If you see one, you’ll know. Saying that they’re probably the hardest bear to spot as they only wander the Arctic regions and are officially recognised as a vulnerable animal.
Where to spot them: Churchill in Manitoba is the polar bear capital of the world and is your best shot if you’d like to see these snowy animals in the wild (you’ll also have the chance to see the Arctic fox and beluga whale). The best time to travel is October to November as they travel through the area heading to the northern coast as the ice begins to stiffen, allowing for them to migrate north for the winter.