Black Bear watching in Whistler

Great news for anyone wanting to see bears! Porridge and picnics aside, if you go down to the woods around Whistler, it should come as little surprise if you meet a bear. A population of 50 – 70 Black Bears live in the Whistler region and there is also the possibility of running into Grizzly Bears, making Whistler an excellent spot for a little bear watching.

Bears are very much locals around this neck of the woods. The town rubbish bins are ‘bear-proof’ requiring users to pull a handle to open the bin. There are also warning signs explaining to conceal food smells, avoid attracting bears, and even how to behave should you find yourself face-to-face with a bear – scary thought!

You can sign up for local tour companies to take you on Bear watching excursions in small four-wheel-drive vehicles, or you can just as easily drive yourself around Whistler and see who you meet. You may get lucky and happen upon a few bears during your visit to Whistler (if you do, stay inside your car and keep a safe distance), but if you don’t there are plenty of tours that know where the bears enjoy hanging out. In fact, this is one of those occasions where it is probably better to go with a local group; it saves you time looking for the bears and, of course, there is safety in numbers!

The tour group I joined collected me from my accommodation and I got to sit in the front seat of the jeep (which for a keen photographer was great news as I was able to control my window!) Having picked up a few others we headed out of town to a road where our guide had seen bears that morning.

Black Bear, Whistler, British Columbia, Canada

As we drove the guide explained the rules around seeing the bears. For both our safety and that of the bears, we were asked to remain in the car at all times and not feed the bears. If they learn not to fear humans, and / or associate them with food, the bears are more likely to approach urban areas and, once bears become known to visit town, they are often euthanised to avoid clashes between the local human and bear populations.

As we cruised along the road at a gentle pace I suddenly realised I could see a bear up ahead. I indicated the bear to the other passengers of the car with excited yelps of “Bear! Bear! Bear!” as I scrabbled to get the lens off my camera. We were told this bear (immediately above) was probably around three years old, based on his size. Apparently the only way to tell is to saw their teeth in half (after they have died) and count the rings, like trees.

After a little time spent pulled off the highway, and with more cars continuously joining us, we hit the road again to see who else was about. It wasn’t long before we spotted another bear munching his way along the roadside. Amusingly our second bear also marched straight at a young sapling, which he then walked straight across and used to scratch his tummy. How very Baloo!

(Brown) Black Bear, Whistler, British Columbia, Canada

Having come to the end of the road, our guide turned the car around and we saw a third (and far larger) bear near our first but on the other side of the road. This bear was much browner in colour than the other two but we were assured it was still technically a ‘Black Bear’.

I would have been happy just to see one wild bear in Whistler, but seeing three going about their business in their natural habitat was incredible. Another tour group informed us they had seen a mother and cubs as well on the same day so we were unlucky to have missed them. Still, our tour was great. We learned so much about the bears from our tour guide, who took us right to the bears’ current location, and we took some great photos.

Have you ever been bear-watching? Where, and would you recommend it?

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