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Bear Update: Bear ID guide for spring count

Whistler Black Bear Project

Whistler Black Bear Project

The purpose of the spring bear count (May 1-June 30) is to determine the minimum number of different black bears utilizing select habitats within the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW).

The count is based on the consistent sighting and recognition of bear identity characteristics (physical, biological, and behavioral) during systematic (counts), focal (individuals monitored long-term), and random (confirmed public bear sightings) observations.

I conduct counts at select habitats where natural and non-natural foods are concentrated or "clumped" in time and space. These clumped food sources attract and provide the required seasonal nutritional needs for large numbers of bears. Since 1994 (Whistler landfill-interpretive forest), 1996 (Whistler-Blackcomb ski area), 2000 (Fairmont-Chateau Golf Course), and 2002 (Whistler Valley) spring and fall bear counts have been conducted as part of a population ecology study initiated by the Whistler Black Bear Project (WBBP) in 1994. The purpose of this study is to learn the dynamics of aggregated "sub-populations" of free-ranging (non-telemetric) black bears and to identify factors that influence their behaviour, kinship relations, growth, and movements and connectivity adjacent to dynamic human habitation. Spring and fall bear counts provide a minimum estimate of relative abundance including sex ratio, age class structure, and density.

All identified bears in Whistler are called "known bears" and are re-sighted seasonally each year, to determine their survival, biology, and behaviour. The spring bear count occurs before berry ripening in July to ensure relative equal effort of sight-ability.

The 2004 fall bear count was 91 bears and is usually higher, including additional non-resident bears attracted to the summer-fall berry crop. Thanks to all participating, over 1,500 public sighting reports (2002-05) have been used so far to help guide bear identification.

Remember do not approach and/or disturb the natural activity of bears.

Non-bear proof garbage and problem bear behaviour (approaching people, buildings, and/or vehicles) should be reported to the B.C. Conservation Officer Service at 1-800-663-WILD.

Bear count results will be presented at the public presentation Population Dynamics of Whistler Black Bears sponsored by Whistler Museum and Archives Society on June 9 at Millennium Place. A report summarizing 12 years of bear population monitoring will be released in June to the RMOW, Whistler-Blackcomb Mountains, Community Foundation of Whistler, Whistler Museum and Archives, and Whistler Bear Working Group.

So if you get a good look at a bear, please note colour, size, markings, ear tags, young (cubs or yearlings) and date, time, and location to:

Michael Allen, 604-902-1660

Bear Researcher,

Whistler Black Bear Project

Bear-class description for Whistler population

Gender of bear

To the untrained eye it is difficult to identify bear gender (male or female) without getting close or even with the use of binoculars and therefore is not recommended. However, there are indications from a safe distance that can be reliable to determine gender. Mothers can be identified from the presence of young and an adult male vs. adult female may be identified by observing a breeding pair during late May to late July. The largest bear is usually the adult male.

A female bear may be identified by observing (with binoculars or if the bear is walking away from you during a close encounter) below the bear’s short tail, a thick strand of bundled guard hairs stuck together from frequent urination. Males do not have this thick strand.

There is no colour differentiation in bear gender. Black and brown black bears may be male or female.

Large adults (12+ years)

Healthy bears have large and robust bodies (from muscle mass) including head. Ears are small and far apart at the sides of a wide skull. A bear’s skull grows more in width than it does in length. The rostrum, or snout, is full and square.

Bears weigh the least in spring after losing fat during winter hibernation. Spring weights for large adult males range from 200 to 400 lbs. and 300 to 550 lbs. in fall. Spring weights for large adult females range from 160 to 250 lbs. and 200 to 390 lbs. in fall. Fall weight gain depends on availability of huckleberry/blueberry and mountain ash berries.

Young adults (4+ years)

Young adult bears have medium to large-sized bodies with less muscle mass. Heads are small and round rather than large and wide (older bear) or slender (sub-adult bear). Ears are at crest or side of skull. Snout is small and slender.

Spring weights of adult males range from 100 to 150 lbs. and in the fall 175 to 250 lbs. Spring weights for adult females range from 90 to 130 lbs. and in fall 140 to 200 lbs.

Sub-adults (2-3 years)

Sub-adult bears are the teenagers of the population. They resemble medium to large-size dogs. Their bodies are slender and lanky to short and thick. Heads are slender with large, oval-shaped ears on top to slightly pointy at the crest of their skull. They may appear scruffy in spring and summer. Males’ spring weight ranges from 70 to 100 lbs. to 140 to 200 lbs. in fall. Females weigh slightly less.

Cubs and yearlings (0-1 years)

Cubs are 250 grams at birth (mid-Jan to early Feb), 8-18 lbs. at den emergence (with mother), and 60-90 lbs. at den entrance in November. Cubs hibernate with their mother and emerge at 30-70 lbs. in April; then are pushed away from mother during May-June. Yearlings are small and slender with triangular shaped heads and large "Mickey-mouse" ears on top of their head.