A bear has set up temporary residence on the eponymous island within Hammocks Beach State Park in Swansboro.

Park rangers discovered the presence of what is thought to be a juvenile Ursus americanus or as they are commonly known – black bear – on Bear Island on Dec. 6, 2019, according to HBSP Superintendent Sarah Kendrick.

Kendrick said rangers spotted skat – a bear’s excrement –on paved trails leading from the island’s ferry dock to the beach.

Park officials are uncertain from where on the mainland the bear began its journey to the beach but believe the young black bear will find the 4-mile by 1/2-mile barrier too small a habitat to sustain its nutritional needs over an extended period of time.

“Bears are constantly moving and looking for food,” said Ranger Jake Vitak. “This bear will forage on berries found on the island and will probably walk up and down the beach eating anything that’s dead lying on the sands such as fish and birds. That’s what will sustain it for awhile.”

Vitak guesses that the bear will stay through the winter but will check out sometime between March and May when seasonal ferry service resumes operations on April 3, 2020. In the meantime the bear can enjoy solitude on the island and a bevy of food sources including berries, white-tailed deer, marsh rabbits and small rodents.

The island is also home to gray fox, coyotes and raccoons, according to Vitak.

Rangers also believe that a lack of a steady source of fresh water will lead the animal back to the mainland where the forested habitats aboard Camp Lejeune and inside the Croatan National Forest are more hospitable to large, omnivorous species such as bears.

Even though ferry service has ceased to the island, private boats can bring day-trippers to the beach for walks or overnight stays in one of the many primitive campsites nestled behind the dunes. Vitak said campers should heed the warning rangers give to would-be campers to secure food in storage lockers and not try to encounter wildlife such as bears.

If this creature is smarter than the average bear, than it may attempt to extend its stay on Bear Island until after Jan. 2, 2020, when the season for bear hunting concludes. Bears are a hunted species in North Carolina during a season that begins in eastern North Carolina’s “Zone 5” on Nov. 11 and runs through Jan. 1, according to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

Hunters harvested 3,454 black bears in North Carolina in 2017, with 51 bears taken from Onslow County game lands during that same period, according to the NCWRC.

The NCWRC reports that black bears are “common in coastal and mountain regions of the state but uncommon in the Piedmont region.”

This is not the first “sighting” of a black bear on the island, only the most recent.

According to rangers, a male juvenile bear was seen and photographed by contractors performing work on the west end of the island during the spring of 2013.

Park officials believe the bear’s stay on the island was very short and he returned to the mainland without being seen again.

Contact Mike McHugh at (910) 326-5066.

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