Bear Update: 

Recognizing cubs and yearlings

Bear Researcher

Since Feb 24, 2005 when the Whistler Black Bear Project (WBBP) forecasted an early den emergence, additional bears have entered valley residential areas. During the past two weeks, sightings of small, single bears have been reported as "baby bears with no mothers." These bears are not abandoned cubs! They were born January-February 2004 and are 1-year-old cubs or yearlings.

I was expecting some mortality amongst this younger age class due to poor weight gain last fall (low berries) but, because of the recent mild winter with low snow pack, bears are emerging in late February and March (instead of April) with abundant sources of water and green-up. Mortality may curb if bears begin to replenish their low weight with bird seed and human foods. Natural mortality in a population is important. If a healthy bear population is to exist in Whistler, we cannot allow bears to supplement their diets on human foods.

Cubs (COY; cubs-of-the-year)

Cubs are born to hibernating adult females during January to early February. Mothers raise their cubs for 16-19 months. Mothers and cubs typically emerge last from winter dens during late April through early May. In April-May, cubs weigh 12-20 lbs (5.5-9 kg) depending on litter size. The cub forecast this year is low due to poor weight gain by pregnant females in 2004. To date no 2005 cubs have been located.

Yearlings (one-year-old cubs)

Yearlings are one-year-old cubs emerging from the den after their first year (as cubs). Yearlings this spring were born January-February 2004. Yearlings usually emerge with their mothers in April, then are forced away from the family group naturally (by their mother) during May and June when adult males are seeking mothers for breeding. Sometimes mothers may separate from yearlings earlier, during den emergence, or even abandon cubs in the late fall of their first year if cubs are in poor condition. Yearlings weigh 16-32 kg (35-70 lbs) and resemble border collie to German Shephard-size dogs.

Sub-adults in Whistler Bear Population

Sub-adult bears (1-3 years) are the portion of the population that is most likely to frequent Whistler Valley. Younger bears are at an impressionable age where experiences from mothers and/or rewards from forced human food seeking increases conflicts with humans. Sub-adult bears tolerate people to avoid established areas of adult ranges where feeding is competitive. Whistler Valley is kind of a free zone for bears – those sub-adults who dare share the risk. This spring a minimum of 37 sub-adult bears: 16, 2 year olds and 21 yearlings are expected in the RMOW. In April the Pique will feature the complete population dynamics of Whistler bears.

You can help identify individual bears in the population by reporting sightings this spring to determine survival of bears following the poor 2004 berry crop and structure of the 2005 spring population. Please note relative size, colour, markings, and activity, location, date, and time. Everyone’s input is thoroughly appreciated. Please remember not to disturb bears and always allow bears space for comfort and escape.

The behaviour, population, and denning ecology of Whistler black bears have been studied since 1994. Project sponsors for Year 11 (2004) were Whistler-Blackcomb Mountains, Resort Municipality of Whistler, Community Foundation of Whistler, Whistler Bear Working Group, Whistler Museum and Archives Society, and Pique Newsmagazine. For more information contact 604-902-1660 or e-mail:

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