The appearance of a large and fluffy visitor to Whidbey Island this week may suggest an emerging pattern in the behavior of one mainland species.
A North Whidbey resident reported a black bear sighting near Strawberry Point to the Island County Sheriff’s Office at 9:13 p.m. Wednesday night. The resident managed to take a picture of the bear through a window in their home.
The last time a bear was sighted on Whidbey Island was in August 2021, when a South End teen spotted a young male black bear while out on a jog. These ursine sightings appear to be part of a developing pattern; Ralph Downes, a state Department of Fish and Wildlife enforcement officer, said that bears also appeared on the island in the summers of 2019 and 2017.
Prior to the 2017 sighting, Downes said the “company line” in response to reports of bears on Whidbey and other islands in northern Puget Sound was, “That isn’t possible.”
Now that confirmed bear visits are increasing in regularity, however, the agency has changed its tune.
Downes said it is highly unlikely that this bear is the same bear that visited Whidbey Island in August 2021, which was affectionately nicknamed “Whidbey the Pooh” on island social media channels. But like Whidbey the Pooh and other recent ursine visitors, the bear spotted on Wednesday is probably a young male in search of companionship.
“Thus far he’s just a generic wanderer,” Downes said.
The bear population on the mainland has increased since the introduction of a statewide moratorium on bear hunting around 25 years ago. During the summer, Downes said, young males have started swimming over to Whidbey or other islands in an attempt to find a mate.
“It’s that time of year, and it’s been a couple years, so I guess we’re due,” he said.
Unfortunately for the bear, he won’t find a mate on Whidbey, and will likely leave the island as quickly as he found it, just like the last three bears before him, Downes said. While he’s in town, Whidbey’s human residents need not fear him, so long as they leave him alone and do not approach him if they encounter him.
Neither is the bear a threat, Downes said, to the other animals that call the Strawberry Point area home, such as a herd of distinctive, pale-colored piebald deer or the island’s beloved single elk, Bruiser.
“Bruiser would kick its ass,” Downes said with a laugh.
Whidbey residents may report sightings of the bear to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife communication center at 360-902-2936, or to ICOM at 360-679-9567.