Florida bear terrifies bathers after joining them for a swim

A black bear spooked Florida beachgoers after being spotted swimming in the shallow water, but state wildlife experts say it's not an unusual occurrence.

An American Black Bear swims in the water  (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
An American Black Bear swims in the water
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Bathers in Destin, Florida, were left shocked when they spotted a black bear swimming in the shallows last Sunday. However, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said in a statement that this is not an unusual sighting and that at this time of year, young bears like the one in Destin may leave their mother's home to explore "unexpected areas" in search of a new home or food.

"All of a sudden we heard a person yelling 'Caution, bear!' You would expect to hear 'Caution, shark' or 'Caution, dolphin' but not a bear!" recounted Jennifer Majors Smith, who was on the beach in Florida and shared the disturbing videos of a black bear swimming in the shallow water alongside frightened bathers via her Facebook page.

"While it is unusual to see a bear swimming in the shallow water, it is not unusual to hear of black bears swimming in the bay, on their way to the islands in search of food," the FWC said of the incident.

"Generally, these bears will stay away from humans. If you see a bear, let it have plenty of room. Don't try to get close to it and never feed it."

Capt. Chris Kirby said bears have been spotted swimming in the bay in the past and that it's a common sight around Destin, especially near Eglin Air Force Base. "I've seen two swimming in the bay," Kirby said, "and that's been going on for over 30 years. They're not that rare. It seems a little strange, but that's about it."

There are more than 4,000 black bears in Florida, state officials estimate. The black bear population has grown and caused safety concerns at Eglin Air Force Base, according to an August 2020 press release from military officials. At the time, there were bear sightings on and around the active flight line and runways, leading to concern among base soldiers, the release said.

Residents are urged to secure food that might attract bears, the FWC said in its announcement: "If a bear can't find food, it will move on."

After reaching the shallow water among vacationers, the cub eventually retreated from the scene and escaped. An eyewitness who observed the beach-loving bear told Al.com that the vacationers were left confused and scared: "We were all shocked and amazed to see what we saw. We were all happy to see him get out of the water and leave the place safely."

It is important to know that despite their cuteness - bears are dangerous prey animals - especially if they feel threatened or hungry and try to devour you. Black bears have impressive paws, strong jaws and the teeth of a predatory animal - you don't want to be the target of a bear attack. Although black bears are omnivorous and not aggressive by nature, they will act defensively if they feel threatened.

However, the 750,000 black bears that live in North America kill an average of one person a year, with most of their attacks being defensive reactions against a person being too close, which is an easy situation to avoid it.