Doin' the Bearstroke

Grizzlies populate Vancouver Island by swimming from the mainland
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Grizzlies populate Vancouver Island by swimming from the mainland

Canada's Vancouver Island is chock full of black bears, but they soon might have to learn to share space with their bigger, burlier cousins: Grizzlies have recently been spotted on the island, and scientists think these Michael Phelps-ian bruins actually swam over from mainland British Columbia.

There have been several grizzly sightings, but researchers think that all can be attributed to three our four sub-adult males that wandered onto the island. The bears have likely made their dens on the island for the winter, and will emerge again in the spring.

"This year has definitely been the busiest," Tony Hamilton, large carnivore specialist for the B.C. Ministry of Environment, said in an interview Wednesday.

"The islands are stepping stones, not separated by very much water. It makes sense. If we're going to get grizzlies coming onto Vancouver Island, this is where they'd come through."

Scientists have urged locals not to freak out: Though grizzlies are now present on Vancouver Island, it's unlikely they'll form a sustainable population. Males often travel far and wide in search of food and new territory, but females stay closer to their home territory. Without females on the island, these males will probably stay lonely and childless.

The bears could have been driven to paddle because of the meager salmon runs on the mainland this year. But maybe they just needed an island vacation, like anybody else. Is that so wrong?

—Ted Alvarez

Grizzly bears go island hopping (Vancouver Sun)