Bears are seen in increasing numbers this time of year, in yards, in trees, and even swimming across the Neuse River.
Monday, May 12th, riders on the Cherry Branch- Minnesott ferry witnessed something peculiar during an afternoon crossing.
“We just left Minnesott Beach and as soon as we leave, we always look to the front of the ship.”
Carlos Kowalczewski is a ferry crew man with the North Carolina Ferry Division.
“we saw this black thing swimming. At first, we thought it was a dog. And we thought oh, we’re going to have to go get that dog. And as we got closer and closer, we got the binoculars and I got my own pair of binoculars and I looked and said that’s not a dog, that’s a bear.”
A black bear that Carlos estimates was about four or five hundred pounds was swimming near the channel that the ferries use for making the Neuse River crossing. News about the bear sighting spread quickly around the vessel and passengers exited their cars to watch.
“Oh everybody was like thrilled they were like hey look look look! We were right on the front of the bow of the ship and he was right in front of us swimming across like he didn’t care minding his own business. He had a mission and that’s what he was going to do. And he didn’t care if the ferry was there.”
It took about an hour for the black bear to swim the three mile wide Neuse River before he landed on the Cherry Branch side in Craven County.
“He got out of the water, he shook himself, and just headed out and started running. It didn’t take him no time at all to recover from the swim.”
While it seems strange to see a bear swimming, it’s actually not that unusual.
“we get reports like that every year about this time.”
Mark Jones is the Supervising Wildlife Biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. While most black bears can swim one or two miles, he says some have been known to swim longer distances.
“We’ve had bears swim across the Pamlico Sound, which is a much longer swim. They have a remarkable sense of smell and I guess we can theorize that they can actually smell something on the other side. They’re not doing this without some idea that they have somewhere to go.”
Since black bear mating season is underway in eastern North Carolina, there are some that speculate the black bear that swam across the Neuse River was in search of a mate. However, it’s also the time of the year where young male black bears are searching for new territory after being kicked out of their home range by their mothers.
“They’re almost always young juvenile bears that are looking for a place to call their own. The mother at some point won’t tolerate them anymore and large male bears are not very friendly to these young bears so they’re looking for a place they can call their own and that’s why a lot of times they take to the water.”
Typically between late spring and early summer, there’s an increase in bear sightings in eastern North Carolina. As bears wander into new territory, Jones says homeowners should be on alert.
“They probably came from a relatively unpopulated area. And a lot of times, they get into populated areas unknowingly and can run into problems around people’s houses with dogs, and they can get into people’s garbage and pet food and things like that.”
As for the bear that was seen swimming across the Neuse River, he hasn’t been spotted since. But ferry crew man Carlos Kowalczewski was able to snap a few pictures of the bear in the water. If you’d like to see them, they’re posted at our website publicradioeast.org.