A young grizzly bear has been spotted in the woods near a fish-farm hatchery on northeastern Vancouver Island, far from the animals’ usual mainland territory.
Hatchery technician Jordan Markell was with two other Cermaq staffers in a truck, heading home after work last week at 4:30 p.m. when they caught sight of the bear in bushes by the road.
The vehicle was stopped about two bus lengths from the bear on the Rock Bay forest service road north of Campbell River.
“At which point, we realized what it was — it was actually a grizzly bear,” the 27-year-old said Monday.
“It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing — especially because it was on the Island.”
Markell pulled out his digital single-lens reflex camera and put on a 200 mm lens to take photos through the windshield.
“It was just kind of browsing away at the side of the road while we were watching it.”
After admiring the bear, the truck moved forward along the road. The bear then moved along the road another 20 to 30 metres, turning left at an intersection. It crossed a small bridge and then headed up the side of a hill, Markell said.
“It seemed pretty calm.”
A Cermaq road crew also spotted the bear on Rock Bay Road and sent in photos and a video, said Sean Pendergast, senior wildlife biologist for the west coast region for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development.
“It appears to be sub-adult grizzly bear.”
Coastal grizzly bears do not have a population on Vancouver Island, but appear every so often.
“In most instances, when you see a single animal show up at this time of year, it is typically a sub-adult male. Likely recently departed from mum and being forced out of the area by a more dominant male. He’s likely in search of his own home range.”
The bear would have reached Vancouver Island after swimming between the many islands.
“Most of the outer islands are not great grizzly bear habitat. There’s not a lot of fish streams. It was a pretty dry time of year when he was swimming across. There wouldn’t have been a lot of food,” Pendergast said.
The population of grizzly bears north of Powell River and into the Grear Bear Rainforest seems to be healthy, he said.
It is “likely producing a few more sub-adult bears.”
“We get one to two show up every two to five years.” This year was pretty dry and if there was a lack of food and that bear was already in marginal habitat, that could be why it headed to Vancouver Island, Pendergast said.
Females rarely show up, although last summer, two sub-adults, a male and female, likely siblings, arrived at Alert Bay.
They were captured, tranquillized and flown by helicopter to the mainland coast where they were released, he said. “They were starting to become a little too comfortable around the community of Alert Bay.”
For information on grizzly bears and tips on what to do in the woods, go to wildsafebc.com/grizzly-bear.