An “unusual” black bear sighting awed in Florida over the weekend but state wildlife experts said Monday that cubs can sometimes take a swim in the Gulf of Mexico.
A crowd of vacationers in Destin were shocked and delighted when they spotted a black bear cub casually taking a dip in the Gulf Sunday, according to footage captured of the odd moment.
While the bear was swimming in the ocean, a woman could be heard saying off-camera, “I guess he’s on vacation, too!”
But the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said in a statement that during this time of year, young bears like the one spotted in Destin can leave the comfort of their mother’s home to explore “unexpected areas” in search of a new home.
Cubs might also be venturing into the Gulf to find food at islands, the FWC said.
“While it is unusual to see a bear swimming in the shallows of a crowded beach, it isn’t unusual to hear of black bears swimming in the Gulf, on their way to barrier islands in search of food,” the FWC stated.
“During this time of year, juvenile bears such as the one seen in Destin are starting to leave their mother’s home range and may be seen in unexpected areas as they try to find a new home.
“Typically, these bears will move away on their own. If you see a bear, give it plenty of space, don’t try to approach it, and never feed it.”
Captain Chris Kirby, a lifelong Sunshine State resident, said bears have been spotted swimming around in the bay of the Gulf and are common sights throughout Destin, particularly near the Eglin Air Force Base.
“I’ve seen two swim in the bay,” Kirby, who operates Charter Boat Backlash, told The Post Monday evening. “And that’s over 30 years. That’s a long time, too. They’re not uncommon, I’ve heard stories of (bears) swimming around the bay as well.”
Still, watching footage of the bear moving around people on the beach took him by surprise.
“It might have been a little curious, that’s all,” Kirby, 37, said of the bear.
There are more than 4,000 black bears in Florida, state officials estimate.
Black bears have been growing in population and have caused safety concerns at Eglin Air Force Base, according to an August 2020 news release from military officials. There were bear sighting back then on and around the flight line and active runways, leading to worries among base officials, the past news release stated.
Residents are urged to secure food that might attract bears and keep them lingering in the area, the FWC stated in its Monday statement.
“If a bear is not able to find food, it will move on,” the state agency said.
After reaching knee-deep among vacationers, the cub eventually retreated away from the tourist destination, according to social media footage.
One witness to Sunday’s beach bear told Al.com confusion reigned at first when the bear appeared.
“A man was yelling out ‘Bear!’ You would expect ‘Shark’ or ‘Dolphin’ but not ‘Bear.’ It came out of the Gulf and look tired but relieved,” Jennifer Majors Smith, who shared some clips of the encounter on Facebook, explained.
“We were all shocked by and amazed to see what we saw. We were all glad to see him safe from the water.”