Black bear on Cape Cod likely swam there, officials say

The black bear that was spotted roaming Cape Cod backyards last weekend is believed to have swum across the Cape Cod Canal, state wildlife officials said today. It is also thought to be the same bear that rambled through Southeastern Massachusetts last summer, officials said.

“The most likely scenario is that it swam across the canal,” said Jason Zimmer, the southeast district manager for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. “There is a pretty strong current there, but if it were close to a flat tide, it would be absolutely no problem.”

Zimmer said the bear, believed to be a 2½-year-old male, has been of interest to wildlife officials since last July, when it first appeared in the Attleboro area.

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“We suspect it is the same bear that has been in Southeastern Mass. for almost a year now, primarily hanging around the Middleborough and Rochester area,” he said. “When he first showed up last July, we were hearing about him almost weekly throughout Bristol and Plymouth County. On April 2, we got the first report of him this year.”

The bear was first sighted on the Cape Sunday night off Route 6A in Barnstable, according to Barnstable police. The bear was ambling along behind houses near the woods, but did not approach any people during its evening stroll, Officer James Melia told the Globe Sunday.

He said the sighting was rare for Cape Cod, as bears are not indigenous to the area.

“This is the first [bear sighting] I can imagine,” said Melia. “Some guys here also said they’ve never heard of a black bear down here at all.”

The bear was reportedly seen as recently as Monday night in several backyards and a cranberry bog in Barnstable, Zimmer said.

“With this bear, in particular, it is rare that he goes a week or more without being seen, whether it is getting into somebody’s birdfeeder or chicken coop,” he said. “Last Thursday he was right off Exit 2 on Route 3 in southeastern Plymouth, less than two miles from the canal.”

For now, Zimmer said, officials are keeping an eye on the bear and tracking its movements through all the reports they get. Although the state typically does not relocate bears unless they pose a danger to public safety, Zimmer said this bear may have to be moved.

“If the opportunity presents itself where he is in a congested area or near a roadway and we could safely tranquilize him, we might do that and then relocate him to what we would consider his more natural home,” he said.