The Great Bear Rainforest Explorer
The Great Bear Rainforest is a largely untouched and still wild section of the northern BC coast with an unmatched diversity of wildlife and a stunning variety of ever-changing landscapes. In the fall the coast comes alive as the salmon return to their natal streams and the elusive Spirit Bear, black bear, grizzly and wolf join in the harvest. Humpback whales and other marine mammals and birds are plentiful as the sea shares its bounty. Touring through this spectacular wilderness in a spacious and beautiful sailboat provides visitors with an intimate and uniquely personal look into the world’s largest tract of intact coastal rainforest. We will walk trails, explore creeks and estuaries, see cascading waterfalls and towering mountain peaks and observe and photograph the animals that call this wonderful place home.
Ocean Light II Adventures was the first tour operator offering specialized Spirit Bear viewing and photography trips in BC
2020 Schedule: The Great Bear Rainforest Explorer
Looking Ahead: The Great Bear Rainforest Explorer 2021
- Sept 1 – 8
- Sept 8 – 15
- Sept 15 – 22
- Sept 22 – 29
- Sept 29 – Oct 6
- October 6 – 13
- 7 days, 7 nights
- 2021 cost TBD
- 2021 Brochure available: Autumn 2020
Sept 1 – 8 • Sept 8 – 15 • Sept 15 – 22
Sept 22 – 29 • Sept 29 – Oct 6 • October 6 – 13
7 days, 7 nights
2021 cost TBD • 2021 Brochure available: Autumn 2020
"I spent only 7 days in the Great Bear Rainforest, but have enough memories to last a lifetime! I had no idea that such a magnificent wilderness still existed anywhere in the world”
"This exceeded my expectations. To see a spirit bear appear from the forest, a whale socializing and a pack of wolves howling - incredible!"
"Sometimes, albeit rarely, time, place and people converge in a way that offers meaning and joy. This is one of those times”
"Jenn & Chris’ passion for the bears and love of the place is evident at every turn. We never felt the bears were even aware of us, let alone under any stress by our presence"
“Your attention to detail, our comfort and safety puts your operation in a class by itself"
“In a week we have seen so much, experienced such beauty and enjoyed your company immensely. It feels like you have invited us into your home and shared with us your vision and passion for an amazing part of Canada. Such a privilege!”
“It was better than I dreamed. Thanks for catering to our individual interests so superbly. Best run boat I’ve ever been on!”
Background Information: The Great Bear Rainforest Explorer
The Great Bear Rainforest is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Coast Mountain Range on the west coast of British Columbia. Its southern boundary is just north of Vancouver Island and its northern boundary is at the point where BC and Southeast Alaska adjoin. The Great Bear Rainforest is home to thousands of species of plants, birds and animals. In this lush rainforest stand 1000 year old cedar trees and 90 meter tall Sitka spruce trees. Rich salmon streams weave through valley bottoms that provide food for magnificent creatures such as humpbacks, orcas, eagles, wolves, black bears, grizzlies and the rare white Spirit Bear.
Coastal temperate rainforests constitute one of the most endangered forest types on the planet. They have three distinguishing features: proximity to oceans, presence of mountains, and high rainfall. Their ecology is marked by complex interactions between terrestrial, freshwater, estuarine and marine systems. Close to 60% of the world’s original coastal temperate rainforests have been destroyed by logging and development. The Great Bear Rainforest is one of the largest contiguous tracts of temperate rainforest in the world. And, it is the ONLY temperate rainforest left on earth which is fully intact, i.e., with all members of its complex ecosystem still present!
Terrestrial and marine systems in BC’s coastal rainforest zone are inextricably linked. The forest reaches out to the sea, which in turn furnishes the wind and rain necessary for maintenance of the forest. This exchange of nutrients and energy between ocean and forest creates the base for an extremely complex food chain, and one that is rich enough to support a huge number of migratory and resident species.
Wild salmon are the most important keystone species for coastal rainforest ecosystems and grizzly, black and spirit bears depend on healthy salmon runs for their survival. Wild salmon are an important food source for a wide array of other wildlife and organisms as well. Even the trees of ancient temperate rainforests on the coast utilize salmon – bears and other wildlife drag carcasses of spawned out salmon into the forest, which facilitates a nitrogen transfer into the forest soil and ultimately into the towering trees.
The fight to save the Great Bear Rainforest has been a long battle. In 2006 the government of BC made a promise to protect one third of BC’s globally unique Great Bear Rainforest and to develop the foundation for a local conservation-based economy. In 2009 this promise was fulfilled, but still it left a full 70% of the region totally unprotected from industrial logging, mining, and other resource extraction proposals and projects. In 2016, the Great Bear Rainforest Agreement ushered in a new era of forest management, with a priority to protect its ecological and cultural integrity. However, it hasn’t been fully implemented or regulated and in 2020 we still see road building for resource extraction. Fortunately the trophy hunting of grizzly bears was stopped in late 2018 but the fight continues to stop the sanctioned hunt of other large carnivores such as bears and wolves. Tanker traffic in our waterways transporting both liquified natural gas and diluted bitmen, open net cage salmon farms, seismic testing for oil and gas reserves and unsustainable fishing practices remain some of the immediate threats to the marine environment. Tankers carrying LNG are set to be travelling through the heart of the Great Bear and through the very waters where humpback and fin whales congregate. Environmentalists and concerned citizens will keep up the fight to ensure the essence of the Great Bear Rainforest is preserved.
Scientists and conservationists on the regional, national, and international level continue to promote the value of saving the last intact and fully functioning coastal temperate rainforest. Saving the majority of the Great Bear Rainforest has not only safeguarded the stunning biological diversity of the region but has also helped (through the absorption of huge quantities of carbon for photosynthesis) offset the effects of the carbon-releasing activities of mankind, thus slowing the process of global warming.
The Spirit Bear
The Great Bear Rainforest is the home of the rare and almost mythical Spirit Bear – a white-phased form of the American Black Bear. The subspecies of Black Bear found within the Great Bear Rainforest is Ursus americana kermodei – the Kermode Bear. All the black bears in the Great Bear Rainforest (of any coat colour) are Kermode Bears. But not all Kermodes are white – only the rare Spirit Bear possesses the white coat.
Spirit Bears are not albinos. The white coat colour is caused by a recessive gene and only those bears with two copies of the gene (one inherited from the mother and one inherited from the father) have white coats. Bears that possess one copy of the recessive white coat gene and one copy of the gene for a “normal” coat have typical black coats and are carriers of the trait. The white coat colour of Spirit Bears can theoretically be found in Black Bears anywhere, but they are exceptionally rare in all parts of the Black Bears’ range. The one exception is on a small portion of the British Columbia coast, where, for reasons that are only poorly understood, between 10 and 20 per cent of the bears are white!
After years of exploring and touring the Great Bear Rainforest, Ocean Light II Adventures has found regions where Spirit Bears can be seen relatively reliably. Seeing, and possibly photographing, these exceptionally rare bears is a joy only very few people on planet earth will ever know. It can truly be listed as a “once in a lifetime” experience!
FAQ about our Great Bear Rainforest Explorer
All of our tours offer excellent photographic opportunities. Our photography tours are very similar to our standard tours but to accommodate the additional gear of photographers – and to maximize shooting angles from our inflatable boat – they are limited to fewer participants (normally 6 clients plus the photography guide).
Yes, there is a spacious engine room where we hang all the wet gear each night to dry. In order to keep the inside of the boat dry and comfortable we do not bring wet gear into the main living area or cabins. Cotton clothing is not recommended as it takes a long time to dry.
No, there are not opportunities for kayaking on all our trips. Our Gwaii Haanas trips offer the best kayaking experiences as there are many different bays and coastlines waiting to be explored by kayak. Our Marine Mammal Explorer trips also offer sheltered kayaking while the Ocean Light II is at anchor.
Spirit Bears are extremely rare, white-phased forms of the American Black Bear (Ursus americana) – it is thought that between 200 and 300 exist on the planet. The white coat colour is controlled by a recessive gene which, for some unknown reason, occurs in higher frequency on a remote and tough to access roadless portion of the northern coast of British Columbia. On a few islands in this region between 10 and 20 percent of the bears are white Spirit Bears. During our Great Bear Rainforest Explorer tour we work very hard to find Spirit Bears and have a very high success rate.
Yes. In Gwaii Haanas we will try fishing for halibut, lingcod, and salmon as well as crabs, when possible. On our Khutzeymateen and Great Bear Rainforest trips we will try fishing for Dungeness crabs and, if opportunities present themselves, for salmon and halibut. If you want to participate in fishing you must purchase a saltwater fishing license before you arrive at the boat.
Hiking boots are not necessary on any of our trips – they are heavy and add to your overall weight. Every time you leave the sailboat and get into the zodiac to go ashore you will wear your rubber boots. For most people on the short distances we walk, rubber boots work well. When you are on the sailboat you need comfortable shoes with a non-marking sole to wear both inside and outside.
The Great Bear Rainforest is a difficult area to access. The distances between ports for a sailboat are significant. We want our guests to have as much time as possible in the prime wildlife viewing locations and we want to spend less time getting to these places. A one way trip allows us to access the best areas for wildlife and scenery in the most efficient manner.
Yes, we HIGHLY recommend that you take trip medical insurance, trip cancellation insurance and trip evacuation insurance. Ask your insurance agent or your travel agent for options available to you. Your current policies may have a travel clause that covers you. Read the fine print to see what your coverage is in BC as a resident or non-resident.
Yes, we can accommodate many dietary restrictions as long as we know about it in advance. We strive to serve healthy organic food, seafood fresh from the ocean (whenever possible), homemade soups, breads, salads and baked goods. We can take care of most of your food allergies, intolerances, likes or dislikes. If your needs are great, the cook will do her best to accommodate but be warned that the cook is just one person and serves a group meal that can be adapted slightly to meet the needs of individuals. The cook can not make 8 individual meals. If your dietary needs are many, this may not be the trip for you. Please contact us in advance of booking to discuss.
Please do not bring a tripod on our Khutzeymateen trips, there will be no opportunity to use it as all shooting is done from the inflatable and it is heavy on the floatplane. On all other trips, you can bring a tripod and it may be useful in certain situations. Note that on many of our trips we follow the bears’ daily activities and therefore move about quite a lot- a beanbag can be useful when shooting from the zodiac. On the Great Bear Rainforest trips, we utilize bear viewing stands on the edge of the river and tripods will be useful. On the Marine Mammal trip it is good to have a tripod to set up on the deck of the Ocean Light II to photograph the various marine mammals.
Yes, the boat has a number of regular household outlets for charging batteries. Other electrical appliances such as hair dryers can be used but may need the generator so check with the crew before using.
Yes, you can bring a laptop. The boat has an inverter with 120V power at all times. Remember we have strict weight limits on the floatplanes so choose your gear wisely.
Our absolute maximum group size is 9, however we prefer to run trips with 6-8. This small group size is favourable because it creates a more intimate setting and makes it easier to move as a group.
Bear viewing on the coast is often dictated by the tides. We will spend as much time as possible viewing the bears. We will move from one bear viewing situation to another throughout the day and the majority of each day will be spent with the bears.
Within the Khutzeymateen Sanctuary bear viewing guidelines have been set up. We must follow the guidelines and approach the bears to within safe distances. We will get ample opportunities to view and photograph the bears from a favourable distance. On our Great Bear Rainforest trip, we will explore grizzly habitat in the inflatable and are governed by BC Parks and First Nations guidelines. For our spirit bear viewing we observe the bears from a stand set up on the edge of the river.
No, we do not charge a single supplement. However you will most likely have to share a cabin (two separate bunks) with another guest of the same gender, or you may be lucky and get a cabin to yourself, it all depends on the make-up of the other guests.
Ocean Light II Adventures has been in operation on the BC Coast for over 30 years and our experience and expertise in the areas that we visit is unsurpassed. We keep our groups small and intimate so that we can move about in our wilderness settings more efficiently and safely. Our boat, the Ocean Light II is a beautiful, spacious and comfortable yacht and it is expertly maintained and fully equipped. We have passionate, experienced, professional crew who will make sure your trip an amazing one.