Swimmers at Destin Beach might have needed a second look Sunday when a black bear cub showed up in the waves, frolicking alongside them in the Gulf of Mexico.
A video of the encounter — initially posted on Twitter by beachgoer Chris Barron — went viral, racking up almost 4,000 likes and about 3.5 million views and quickly spreading across accounts and social media platforms.
While it’s much more common to see black bears in the forest, their natural habitat, it isn’t unheard of for them to swim in the gulf as they search for food around the barrier islands, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Furthermore, the commission says, early summer is the time when juvenile black bears like the one in Destin begin searching for a new home on their own, making it more likely that they’ll be seen in surprising places.
Less than two weeks before Sunday’s sighting, the commission released an explainer on what to do when encountering a bear in an unexpected area, as people have spotted the animals recently in Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville. The agency stressed that people should secure their food to ensure that bears don’t become reliant on humans, and they should leave bears alone so the animals don’t feel threatened and attack.
Beachgoers in Destin did the opposite, moving toward the bear and splashing water in its direction.
“If you see a bear, give it plenty of space, don’t try to approach it, and never feed it,” the commission said in a statement. “Typically, these bears will move away on their own.”
The agency said the animal spotted in Destin, a Panhandle town about 50 miles east of Pensacola, “likely dispersed from its mother’s home range from woodlands to the north and then most likely went back that same general way once leaving the beach.”
It’s unclear if that was the case, however. On Monday, someone posted a video showing what appeared to be the same bear wandering the tennis courts of a Destin condominium complex, just steps away from the beach.