Cub scouted: Wildlife experts explain oddball black bear sighting at Florida beach

June 14, 2023

An “unusual” black bear sighting awed throngs of beachgoers in Florida over the weekend, but state wildlife experts said on Monday, June 12, that cubs can sometimes take a swim in the Gulf of Mexico, reports the New York Post.

A crowd of vacationers in Destin in northwest Florida was shocked and delighted to spot a black bear cub casually taking a dip in the Gulf on 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 usual 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.”

After reaching knee-deep water among vacationers, the cub eventually retreated from the tourist destination, according to social media footage.

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 Eglin Air Force Base.

Black bear cubs will swim in the Gulf to find food, officials said.

“I’ve seen two swim in the bay,” Kirby, who operates Charter Boat Backlash, told the Post on 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. The black bear population has been growing and has caused safety concerns at Eglin Air Force Base, according to an August 2020 news release from military officials.

Residents are urged to secure food that might attract bears and keep them lingering in the area, the FWC said in its Monday statement. “If a bear is not able to find food, it will move on,” the state agency said.

Research contact: @nypost