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National Geographic

Black Bears That Are Actually ... White?

In a forest dominated by second-growth trees, a young bear settles into a mossy day bed at the foot of a giant, old-growth western red cedar. Paul Nicklen/National Geographic hide caption

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Paul Nicklen/National Geographic

In a forest dominated by second-growth trees, a young bear settles into a mossy day bed at the foot of a giant, old-growth western red cedar.

Paul Nicklen/National Geographic

It's just as weird and magical as it sounds. That the local people on the northwest coast of British Columbia refer to these creatures as "spirit bears" makes them all the more elusive: There are an estimated 1,000 in existence, but photographer Paul Nicklen caught an intimate glimpse of the spirit bear (also known as the Kermode bear) for National Geographic's August issue.

"Neither albino nor polar bear," the article explains, "the spirit bear ... is a white variant of the North American black bear, and it's found almost exclusively here in the Great Bear Rainforest." It is something of a best-kept secret among Canadian First Nations and American Indians of the area, and perhaps that's why it still exists.

But a proposed oil pipeline that would run through the area has locals on edge. This is a small selection of Nicklen's work; more on spirit bears and the oil debate are at National Geographic.

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