ANCHORAGE — A rare white-colored black bear has received a reprieve from hunters.
In a teleconference Friday, the Alaska Board of Game ordered an emergency closure on hunting of all "white phase" black bears in the Juneau area. Effectively, that covers only one known white bear, the one spotted and photographed recently by Pat Costello.
Costello petitioned the board last week, asking that the animal he dubbed "Spirit Bear" be exempt when hunting season opens Sept. 1. "I'm thrilled with what the board did," Costello said. "They realized there's an extreme interest in this bear."
Costello had the backing of hundreds of e-mails received in the last week after he posted a picture of the bear on his Web site, www.juneauphotos.com. People all over the world don't want to see the bear harmed, he said.
"People recognize this is a unique animal. It's important to them, whether they ever get to see it or not," he said. "They don't want to see it just made into another rug."
The game board's executive director, Diana Cote, said board members agreed, and the state Department of Fish and Game told the policymaking panel that it also supported the ban. State game officials say they also have been flooded with phone calls and e-mails urging them to spare the bear.
The ban will last at least until the game board meets Nov. 1, when it will ask for public testimony and decide whether to extend the ban through the hunting season, which ends June 30.
The bear is creamy white, almost like a polar bear, but with a distinctive raccoon mask around the eyes.
Most likely it is a variation of what biologists call a glacier bear--genetically a black bear, but with a light fur coat that can run from cinnamon to golden retriever blond to blue-white.
Although glacier bears are scarce, a bear this white is rare even among glacier bears. Biologists in southeastern Alaska said they have not seen another like it.
"Actually, there are a lot of different color morphs with black bear," said Neil Barten, Douglas area biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
"But not quite this white. This is definitely unusual."
State biologists have known of the bear's existence for a few years. But knowledge of it became public after Costello took its picture.