A photographer in Finland captured an extremely rare sight recently — a brown bear cub that was almost entirely white.
Nature photographer Niilo Isotalo happened upon the cub, along with his sibling and mother, when camping in a nature reserve near the Russian border. Named Kuhmo, the reserve is known for its 600 lakes and vast stretches of forests, and is extremely popular with nature seekers.
Initially Isotalo was unaware of just how rare the cub was; It wasn’t until a barrage of media attention that he realized he had found something truly unique. Researchers and media outlets from around the world have been extremely intrigued by the sighting, and are eager to find out if more cubs like this one exist in the region.
One scientist reported that while white spots on bear cubs (like the one below) are common, it’s highly unusual for a cub to be nearly all white.
There are exceptions to this rule, however. A subspecies of black bear in British Columbia called the kermode bear or “spirit bear” are creamy white. An estimated 400 bears in the region share this coloration, and the majority are found on Princess Royal Island in the Great Bear Rainforest.
These bears still have pigmented skin and eyes, so they are not albinos. The light fur is attributed to a recessive mutation which causes melanin to not be produced. Therefor, when two black bears each carry a copy of the gene, it’s possible for their cub to be completely white.
Surprisingly, this light colored fur seems to give them an advantage over their darker cousins. The white bears are 35% more successful in capturing salmon, as the fish have a harder time spotting the light colored fur from underwater. Learn more about these unique bears here.