ATLANTIC — It’s not every day you see a bear swimming in Core Sound.
However, that was the case May 7 when Donovan Smith went fishing and witnessed a black bear make his way across Ophelia Inlet.
“I’ve never seen a bear swim out in the sound like that,” the Atlantic resident recently said. “And then to head off toward the ocean. What caused him to want to swim over there, I have no idea.”
Mr. Smith’s mother, Michelle, took video of the bear on her phone. His sister, Kelsey, posted it on Facebook, where it gained plenty of traction with 114 shares.
“Some of the people commented and said I shouldn’t have messed with him, that I could have worn him out, drowned him,” Mr. Smith said. “But I was trying to steer him toward safety, get him in the right direction.”
Mr. Smith said he took his father’s boat to go fishing early in the afternoon when the tide was low and came upon what he initially thought was a dog.
“I was running from the north side of the inlet from the south side,” he said. “We were inshore and it was pretty. We when we got there to it, it was a bear. It was hard to believe.”
The bear, which Mr. Smith estimated was between 150-175 pounds, was making his way toward the ocean.
“I felt like I should turn him, so I got in front of him,” he said. “Then he started heading toward the north side of the (Core Banks) beach, which was closer to him. I stayed 15 to 20 feet from him, just along right behind, trying to lead him that way.”
After making his way onto a shoal and walking a bit, the bear swam the rest of the way to the north side of the beach.
Two days later, the Cape Lookout National Seashore Facebook page posted a photo of a black bear front paw print found on the South Core Banks.
“This past week one of our park biologists, who was monitoring nesting birds near Ophelia Inlet, found a bear track in the sand,” the post read. “Bears generally don't stay long – this one is probably back on the mainland already – and normally aren’t a problem for our surf fishers or campers.”
Mr. Smith said if he had to guess, he’d say the bear came from the Stacy or Sea Level areas.
Black bears are not an uncommon sight Down East, nor elsewhere in eastern North Carolina.
The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on mainland Dare and Hyde counties has what is believed to be one of the largest concentrations of black bear found in the southeastern U.S. with an estimated population between 180 and 293, with estimated densities of 1-2 bears per square mile.
According to the News & Observer, black bears were seen twice last year near the northern Outer Banks.
In March, two anglers in Dare County took video of a 350-pound bear swimming across the sound near Stumpy Point Bay. Police in the town of Duck had to issue an alert in May, warning tourists that a bear was seen walking the beach north of the research pier and along the east side of town.
Disclosure: The subjects of this story, the Smiths, are related to News-Times reporter and Carteret County native J.J. Smith.