This article has been updated.
A curious black bear has shown up on Vashon, according to an islander who caught video of the creature in early November.
Resident Jo Hollingsworth posted pictures and video of the bear sniffing around her home on the north end of the island near Wingehaven on Facebook the evening of Monday, Nov. 6 — showing the ursid come right up to the front door.
“There’s at least one bear wandering around the island,” Hollingsworth said in a Facebook post. “And it’s not shy.”
Hollingsworth said she and her husband Andy haven’t seen the bear in person, nor did it get into anything at their home or their neighbors’ — it even left the chickens next door alone.
“My husband saw the video first and yelled ‘A bear!’ ‘A bear!’,” she said in a Facebook message. “Honestly we thought it was pretty cool. Obviously, you need to respect wildlife and keep your trash locked up and an eye on your pets (and we do).”
Jennifer Becar, a spokesperson at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) said the agency has received a report of a bear sighting on the island’s north side from Nov. 7, but had not yet confirmed the sighting as of Nov. 9.
(Reach out to email@example.com with any sightings or confirmation of bear activity.)
Black bears are common in Washington and it’s not unusual for them to show up in suburban areas or greenbelts around cities and towns, Becar said.
“Bears end up in many situations by following their noses,” she said, adding that they can forage up to 20 hours a day while preparing for the winter.
Appearances are uncommon but not extraordinary on Vashon. In 2010, a black bear was spotted on Wax Orchard Road. In 2008, a ravenous black bear demolished six beehives owned by island beekeeper Bob Rice.
Sightings on the island are most common in the late fall or early spring, when the bears are chowing down to prepare for, or recover from, their lethargic winter state called “torpor,” according to Dr. Bianca Perla, co-director of the Vashon Nature Center.
They can arrive by swimming over from the Kitsap Peninsula during low tide, and a bear in 2007 made the impressive athletic feat of swimming two miles from Point Robinson to Des Moines.
That bear was eventually lured into WDFW custody by a dozen muffins and molasses-covered food scraps, according to the Seattle PI, and relocated to the Cascade foothills.
“We do occasionally get bears swimming over every couple years or so,” Perla said. “Sometimes they go virtually undetected and swim off fairly quickly. Other times they stay a little longer.”
If the recently spotted bear did arrive that way, it may make its way across the island for a period of time in search of food or romantic company.
“Historically, bears have swum out to Vashon Island in search of seasonal forage or mating opportunities depending on the time of year,” WDFW wildlife specialist Kevin O’Connor said in an email.
Bears are natural swimmers in cold water, thanks to their heavy fur coat, powerful muscles and ability to carry a lot of fat, Perla said.
“They’re river rats,” Perla said. “They’re not afraid of the water at all. And if you really look at Colvos passage from a bear’s perspective, it probably doesn’t look much wider than a river. … And it looks pretty green (over here) from the peninsula.”
The bear will likely leave eventually, Perla said. There is no evidence of a resident bear population on the island, she said — only occasional tourists.
“They seem to be fairly regular visitors, but (there are) none that have been here long-term,” Perla said. “… I don’t know why. Maybe they just sort of sense that it’s just not large enough habitat for them long-term. Or maybe they’re just using this as a corner of their range.”
Animal behavior is difficult to predict, so it’s unknown how long a bear would stay on the island, O’Connor said. They’re intelligent, adaptable and capable of following landscapes and waterways in their hunt for food and mates, experts say.
“Washington is bear country,” he said. “Many of the green spaces that Western Washington residents enjoy are great habitat for bears and provide excellent food; including areas of Vashon Island.”
The best safety step for islanders to take, O’Connor said, is securing anything that may draw a bear’s big and sensitive nose.
“Now is a great time for residents of Vashon and Washington to identify anything that may be smelly to a bear and secure those in a secure and locked location,” O’Connor said. “Common things like garbage can be locked in a hard sided structure like a garage or wooden/metal shed, bird seed should be put away until late winter when bears are hibernating and removed again in the spring when bears wake up, and make sure pet food stays inside the home and is not left out day or night. We love seeing our local wildlife enjoy our shared open spaces, but we don’t want them ‘sticking around’ for things like garbage and bird seed.”
Owners of small pets and livestock, and chickens, can also take steps to secure their animals and feed.
Speaking loudly to a bear lets them know you’re nearby and is often enough to scare them away. But if you do come in close contact with a bear, stay calm, and back away slowly if you are able, according to the WDFW.
If the bear approaches, wave your hands above your head and talk in a low voice to identify yourself as human.
If the bear continues toward you, stomp your feet, clap your hands, yell, and continue waving your arms to appear larger and more intimidating.
Do not run from a bear —they can run up to 35 mph, and running away from them can trigger their chase instinct.