Finding the spirit of the Great Bear

Written by Chelsea Turner, Assistant Producer, River Road Films Ltd.
Filmmakers Jeff and Sue Turner, along with daughter Chelsea and their son Logan, follow the trials and tribulations of a spirit bear mom and two cubs in the Great Bear Rainforest as she tries to find food for her family whilst keeping them safe.  Chelsea Turner shares with WWF what it was like to film The Spirit Bear Family.

Spirit bear
Crossing the rough creek waters © River Road Films Ltd.

It was a crystal-clear, warm September day – that felt more like summer than fall – when I first laid eyes on the mother Spirit Bear also known as Kermode bear. It was almost like a fairy-tale, seeing a snow white bear in the midst of an emerald-green forest.
We actually saw the cubs first, sitting high in the canopy of a spruce tree on the banks of a river. And there – at the base of the tree – lay the mama bear, watching us thoughtfully. She seemed relaxed and unperturbed, and we could tell from the dark circles around her eyes (where the fur had been worn away over time) that she was a mature bear.

This mama bear was to become the hero of a documentary film called “Spirit Bear Family” that I filmed alongside my dad, mom and brother. We spent a year traveling the coast of British Columbia to make this film about the Great Bear Rainforest and its rarest and most famous creature: the Spirit Bear.
My mom and dad have been making films about bears for over 25 years. They have a wealth of experience about how to work closely with bears safely, and it was amazing to learn from them. The location we filmed at was also protected by the local Gitga’at First Nation, so the bears there have never been hunted. This makes them more relaxed about having people nearby.

spirit bear
Chelsea Turner with Father Jeff © River Road Films Ltd.

Spirit Bears are a rare colour phase of the North American black bear, and mother bears are just as likely to give birth to black-furred bears as they are to white ones. The mother Spirit Bear we followed had two little black cubs.
It was amazing getting to spend so much time watching the daily dramas of her life unfold. The late summer is the busiest time of the year for her, because that’s when the salmon begin migrating inland up the coastal streams and rivers to their spawning grounds.
The mother bear had to get access to the streams to catch salmon. Salmon are rich in fat and protein and are the best food a bear can eat in order to put on weight before the winter hibernation. However, the salmon streams are also crowded with other bears, and the mother sometimes got into confrontations with big males bears. She was brave enough to stand her ground and maintain a place on the streams for herself and her cubs to fish.
Getting such an intimate glimpse into this bear family’s world was an amazing privilege. I hope that by sharing this unique view of the bear with the rest of Canada, people are inspired to learn more about bears, and hopefully treat them with a little more tolerance and understanding.
The Spirit Bear Family will premiere on Thursday March 26th at 8 p.m. ET on CBC’s The Nature of Things.