Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

The Fishing Hole

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In the Field

The Fishing Hole. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), BC, Canada. October 3, 2015.

I captured this white bear (AKA Spirit Bear) just as it was entering a calm pool on a salmon stream deep within the Great Bear Rainforest in early October of 2015. Our group had been positioned much further upstream for the bulk of the day and while we had good subject matter (including this bear) to work with, we had been fighting harsh light all day. As we were leaving and hiking out the white bear pretty much decided to do the same thing, and we caught glimpses of it as it went into and out of thick forest. When it chose to enter this pool I was, quite literally, at the right place at the right time (and, I have to admit, it was more luck than good management this time!). I was SO fortunate to capture the rare bear as it waded into about the only spot on the entire stream that had calm water, no obstructions or distractions, and even (albeit low) light!

Spirit Bears live in a world that most of us would think of as very dark. They're found in thick forests in the Great Bear Rainforest on the central BC coast. The thick canopy and often overcast skies combine to make it a very low-light environment. In this dark world the Spirit Bear sticks out like a sore thumb (as this photo shows so clearly!). That may explain why Spirit Bears are normally found in areas where there are no (or very few) grizzlies - it's kind of hard for white bears to hide from the larger and generally more aggressive grizzlies in a dark forest!

But with such a bright coat that's virtually "anti-camouflage" in a dark forest, why do Spirit Bears persist - and apparently continue to thrive - at all? Said another way - and using biological lingo - what is it about the white coat that gives Spirit Bears a competitive advantage (in a region where bears with black coats - and dominant black coat genes - are constantly flooding in)? this point the best available science (and even it is based on smalll sample sizes and is considered suggestive at best!) supports the idea that the white coat of the Spirit Bear may slightly increase the rate of success in catching fish during daylight hours in the critical period just before they hibernate. Because of the increased success in fishing the white bears may go into hibernation with slightly more fat reserves than their black-colored brethren which, in turn, leads to slightly higher reproductive rates for the white-colored bears!

Of course, that leads to another question - why do white-colored bears have higher rates of success in fishing than black-colored bears? To answer that question imagine yourself as a salmon swimming in a creek. What do you see when you look straight upward? Well, during daylight hours, and even if it's cloudy, you see a bright sky. And, you're more likely to notice and panic (and swim off) if a dark colored object (for instance, a black-colored black bear) obscures that bright sky. BUT, much to a white bear's glee, you're less likely to notice (against that bright sky) a white bear about to pounce on you and turn you into sushi! Cool, eh?

Here's a higher-resolution (2400-pixel) version for your perusal and downloading pleasure:

The Fishing Hole: Download 2400 pixel image (JPEG: 1.8 MB)


1. This image - in all resolutions - is protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of them (including use as desktop backgrounds or screensavers on your own computer), but unauthorized commercial use of the image is prohibited by law. Thanks in advance for respecting my copyright!

2. Like all wildlife images on this website, the subject(s) is/are fully wild and completely unconstrained. Besides the potential impact of my/our presence, nothing has been done to intentionally alter or affect the ongoing behavior of the subject and, of course, there has been no use of any form of bait or other form of wildlife attractants (including vocalizations).

3. This image was captured during my autumn "Into the Great Bear Rainforest" photo tour in October of 2015. Each year I offer trips into two different parts of the Great Bear Rainforest as well as one to photograph marine mammals and oceanscapes near the northern tip of Vancouver Island. And, in selected years, I also offer photo tours to locations to capture other highly sought-after subjects, such as various boreal owl species and wildlife of Canada's Arctic. Details about these trips can be found on the Photo Tours page of this website.

Behind the Camera

The Fishing Hole. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), BC, Canada. October 3, 2015.

Digital Capture; Compressed RAW (NEF) 14-bit format; ISO 5000.

Nikon D750 paired with Nikkor 70-200mm f4 VR @ 160mm. Hand-held. VR on and in "Normal" mode.

1/200s @ f6.3; -1.0 stop compensation from "recommended" matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

The Fishing Hole. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), BC, Canada. October 3, 2015.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF using Phase One's Capture One Pro 8. Four raw variants (different versions of a single raw capture) processed, with the variants differing in exposure (0.25 stop total difference between the variants), noise reduction settings, and in shadow and highlight retrieval settings.

Further digital corrections on resulting 16-bit TIFF files using Adobe's Photoshop CC 2015 and Light Crafts Lightzone. Photoshop adjustments included compositing (blending) of the four output files from the raw converter, minor selective colour saturation and desaturation and selective sharpening for web output. Final tone-tweaking performed using LightZone's "tonemapper" tool.


The Fishing Hole. Great Bear Rainforest (central BC coast), BC, Canada. October 3, 2015.

Ten percent of the revenue generated by this image will be donated to Raincoast*.

Species Status in Canada**: Not currently listed as Threatened or Endangered.

The "Spirit" Bear is a rare genetically-based colour variant of the common Black Bear (Ursus americana). It has been estimated that less than 300 Spirit Bears exist today. Because the Black Bear is not considered under threat as a species, the Spirit Bear suffers from having the same conservation designation (it should be acknowledged that in British Columbia - the jurisdiction of greatest Spirit Bear abundance - hunting of these white-coated bears is not permitted). For reasons that are not fully understood, the Spirit Bear occurs with greater frequency in a relatively small geographic area within The Great Bear Rainforest of the central and northern coast of British Columbia. In this area 10 to 30% of the bears possess white coats. Many of the black-coloured Black Bears in this region carry the gene for white coats, so allowing hunting of ANY Black Bears in this region can reduce the frequency of the gene for white coats. Thus, to protect the Spirit Bear, it is necessary to prohibit the hunting of ALL Black Bears in this region. And, very unfortunately, the globally unique ecosystem that contains the Spirit Bear is under development pressure, especially from the forestry industry. If this unique environment is altered, we may lose the wonderful genetic anomaly known as the Spirit Bear forever.

*The Raincoast Conservation Society (and Foundation) is an effective and efficient organization that has been fighting for protection of this unique habitat. If you are looking for a meaningful way to contribute to the conservation of this amazing ecosystem, Raincoast will provide maximal "bang" for your conservation dollars.

**as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada