A bear that visited Whidbey before swimming to eight San Juan islands was captured and returned to the wilderness. Fish and Wildlife photo

A bear that visited Whidbey before swimming to eight San Juan islands was captured and returned to the wilderness. Fish and Wildlife photo

Island-hopping bear is caught and returned to wild

“The nicest bear” is back in the wilderness after a fruitless search for companionship took him to 11 different islands, including Whidbey.

The teenage black bear made regional headlines after showing up in places where bears haven’t been seen in decades.

The bear’s five-week trek apparently started on Camano Island in late April.

The bear made the long, cold swim to neighboring Whidbey, where Coupeville residents first reported seeing him on April 29.

Several residents on North Whidbey spotted him as he traveled up the island during the next couple of days.

Ralph Downes, enforcement officer with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the bear then swam across Deception Pass to Fidalgo Island. From there, he swam to Guemes, Cyprus, Blakely, Orcas, Shaw, San Juan, Lopez and Decatur islands before returning to the mainland.

Downes said it’s likely the bear was looking for a female to spend time with.

“I think he was searching, but I don’t think he was lost,” he said.

The bear was spotted in the Padilla Bay area before visiting more populated areas in Burlington, which is when wildlife experts became concerned. He climbed a tree behind the Home Depot and swam across the river to Mount Vernon.

On Saturday, Fish and Wildlife officers tranquilized the bear and relocated him. Downes said he didn’t get to see the animal firsthand, but his fellow enforcement officers were surprised by how mellow and good-natured the bear was.

“They said it was the nicest bear they ever met,” he said.

In fact, Downes said the bear didn’t show any aggression to anyone during his long trek. The only problems he caused were in breaking a couple of bird feeders to get to the seeds and digging through a garbage can or two.

Downes originally estimated the pubescent bear at about 300 pounds, but the other officers guessed he weighed about 250 pounds when he was captured. The difference, Downes speculated, may be due to all the calories burned in his travels.

The bear’s travels took him on a big loop, Downes said, and was ultimately trapped a few miles from where he started. He was returned home and released in the wilderness of northern Snohomish County.

Downes said he hopes the bear will find a companion in the wild to quell his wanderlust.

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