Nanaimo resident Rabina Phipps captured a photo of the elusive blonde raccoon earlier this summer on Newcastle Island. She has been trying to catch sight of the animals for more than two decades.

Blonde raccoons remain elusive on Newcastle Island

NANAIMO – Newcastle Island considered one of the only known places in B.C. with blonde raccoons.

It’s not as well-known or revered as British Columbia’s spirit bear, but Nanaimo has its own animal attraction.

Newcastle Island is one of the only places in B.C. known to have blonde raccoons, a colour believed to be caused by a double-recessive gene.

It’s an “interesting phenomenon,” according to Sean Pendergast, wildlife biologist with the B.C. Ministry of Forests, Land and Natural Resource Operations, who said he’s also heard of people spotting white moose, deer and squirrels in different parts of the country. Even B.C.’s white spirit bear is a colour-phase of the black bear.

It’s not known how many of the blonde raccoons are on Newcastle, but Pendergast said it’s the only place in the West Coast region he’s heard of them being reported. If the raccoons did exist elsewhere in B.C. it would likely be at very low levels, he said, adding it’s not something the province keeps tabs on.

The colour could put the animal at a natural disadvantage in areas where there’s more predators, Pendergast said.

“To my knowledge it’s not overly common, but there have been reports for some time now or many years on Newcastle Island of seeing these blonde colour-phase racoons,” he said. “You need this isolated population with [a] low level of gene influx to allow the recessive trait to come out.”

Field naturalist Bill Merilees, a member of the Newcastle Island Society, has spotted the creatures over the years and calls it a “cool phenomenon.” Sightings take timing and a little luck, but the blonde raccoons are on the beach regularly, he said, adding the chances of seeing one on the island is better than anywhere else he knows of in the province.

Luck was on the side of Nanaimo’s Rabina Phipps this summer. The paddler was out on the water with friends when she saw a white speck on Newcastle Island. She and her husband, a Nanaimo native, have been trying to catch sight of a blonde raccoon for more than two decades with no success.

“I knew [it] was there, but we’ve never found it or seen it,” she said, adding she was beside herself when she caught sight of one.

“I said there it is! There it is! I was pulling out the camera and I had camera parts flying all over the place and the boat was drifting and I was yelling at the girls to hold the boat.”

Phipps has seen one of the colour-phase racoons several times now, which she says we’re special to have.

The animals are listed as one of Newcastle Island’s attractions on the trail guide and according to Merilees the best time to find one is in the morning during low tide, when raccoons come out to forage.

Just Posted

Year-long volunteer program aims to empower Vancouver Island youths

Federally funded Youth 20/20 Can involves young people aged 15-30

Nanaimo pumped for Red Bull Pump Track World Championship event

Qualifying event held at Steve Smith Bike Park

V.I. Raiders earn a win against Okanagan Sun

Five interceptions help Nanaimo to a 37-13 victory Saturday at Caledonia Park

Summertime Blues Festival on at Maffeo Sutton Park

It’s Day 3 of Nanaimo’s blues festival with performances until 10 p.m. tonight

VIU staff go rock-hunting in Nanaimo for grade-school geology courses

University’s earth science department creating introductory teaching kits for schools

V.I. Raiders earn a win against Okanagan Sun

Five interceptions help Nanaimo to a 37-13 victory Saturday at Caledonia Park

VIEX now in full swing

Vancouver Island Exhibition underway in Nanaimo

B.C. Lions fall to 1-9 after 13-10 loss to Ticats

Lowly Leos have dropped six straight CFL contests

VIDEO: B.C. woman meets biological mother, 38 years later

Mother never gave up hope of finding daughter, despite all the obstacles

Vancouver Island man dead after reported hit-and-run incident

Oceanside RCMP seek public’s help gathering information

B.C. RCMP plane chases fleeing helicopter as part of major cross-border drug bust

The helicopter eventually landed at a rural property near Chilliwack

Beefs & Bouquets, Aug. 22

To submit a beef or a bouquet to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, e-mail bulletinboard@nanaimobulletin.com

B.C. man who died after rescuing swimmer was known for helping others

Shaun Nugent described as a dad, a coach, a hero and ‘stand-up guy’ at celebration of life

Thousands cycle to conquer cancer

The 11th annual Ride to Conquer Cancer took place Saturday morning, Aug. 24 in Surrey, B.C.

Most Read