Bear Makes A Splash On Cape Cod

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By: James Kinsella
Published: 06/01/12

A young male black bear has come to Cape Cod, apparently swimming across the Cape Cod Canal and making its way east across the peninsula.

The bear initially was spotted Saturday night in Sandwich, according to Barnstable Police Detective Kevin Connolly.

Sandwich police received their first call about the bear from a resident on Hilltop Drive who called police at 7:19 PM to say she “saw a black bear running across the lawn of the condos toward Shawme Road.”

Though police investigated, they did not locate the bear.

Then, on Sunday morning at 8:49, a resident from Chase Road called to report seeing a black bear crossing the road, headed east.

Sandwich police notified Barnstable police.

Sandwich resident Damien F. Houlihan was out Sunday afternoon watching his young son, Liam, and Liam’s friend ride bicycles in their Wolf Hill neighborhood in East Sandwich, very near the Barnstable Town Line, when he first heard of the bear sightings.

“A woman I’ve never seen before—maybe because she was concerned about the kids—stopped her SUV and asked if I had heard the news about the bear,” Mr. Houlihan recalled.

“I looked around the neighborhood—it’s so suburban.

My response to her was ‘Lady, there are no bears on Cape Cod.’ ”

But the bear made its biggest splash in West Barnstable, where the animal was spotted several times on Sunday.

Sue Phelan of Plum Street in West Barnstable saw the bear in her yard about 9:30 PM Monday. The residence is in a very heavily wooded area.

“I was reading,” Ms. Phelan said yesterday. “I have two indoor cats. The cats tipped me off.”

Ms. Phelan said the two cats, rather than engaging in their usual fighting, had gone over to the screen door at the house’s back door and were quite intent in looking out.“Oh, what did you see out there?” she asked the cats.

She went over and flipped on the back porch light. About 10 feet away, at the top of the house’s driveway, she saw what appeared to be a very large dog looking at the garden.

When Ms. Phelan made an utterance, she said, “He looked at me. I realized he was a bear.” She quickly closed the door behind the screen door, seeking to protect the cats, a move that also prompted the bear to move on.

Although Ms. Phelan said she was “kind of shaken” by the encounter, she also said, “I wished I hadn’t closed the door so quickly. I would have liked to have soaked the experience in more.”

Although the residence has a bee hive, Ms. Phelan said the bear left the hive alone.

Sightings were also reported in West Barnstable near High and Church streets, and at Deer Jump Creek near Indian Springs.

My response to her was ‘Lady, there are no bears on Cape Cod.’ 

                    Damien Houlihan of Sandwich

Jason Zimmer, southeast district supervisor for the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, said records dating to colonial times do not report any bears on the Cape.

Black bears, in fact, remain rare in southeastern Massachusetts.

What is believed to be the Cape bear began making its presence known recently in and near the Plymouth area, according to Mr. Zimmer. A sighting was reported May 24 near Exit 2 on Route 3, Mr. Zimmer said.

The official said the most likely scenario is the bear swam across the Cape Cod Canal. “They’re excellent swimmers,” he said.

Officials believe the bear weighs between 180 and 200 pounds, and is about two and one-half years old.

By Tuesday, West Barnstable informally had adopted the bear as its own, with the message board at the West Barnstable Fire Station proclaiming, “Welcome to WB a Bear Y Nice Village.”

In its trip through West Barnstable, the bear passed through the precinct represented by Barnstable Town Councilor June Daley of Marstons Mills. “It was exciting, but I’m glad it’s gone,” Ms. Daley said yesterday. “But it may come back.”

The councilor said she is worried for the bear, which she said may get near people, prompting authorities to act, should the animal go looking for food near houses, such as in bird feeders or in unsecured trash.

But Ms. Daley, a former animal control officer for the Town of Mashpee, said it is a good sign that the bear thus far seems to be surviving off the land without the need to come near human habitations in search of food.

In the meantime, the councilor said, people are coming up with cute ideas related to the bear, such as the “bear y nice” message posted by the West Barnstable Fire Department. “There’s a lot of good feeling about it,” she said about the animal.

Like many other Cape visitors, however, the bear apparently has decided to stay on the move.

By early Wednesday morning, the Yarmouth Police Department and the Massachusetts State Police Barracks in South Yarmouth received several phone calls from citizens in Yarmouthport reporting the sighting of a large bear. The calls came in around 6:38 AM.Yarmouth Police Patrol Officers Diana Wells, Richard Aprea and Paolo Cruz responded to the areas of the sightings which started in the Center Street area of Yarmouthport, according to Yarmouth Deputy Chief of Police Steven G. Xiarhos.

The sightings continued eastward to the Route 6A area near the Bass River Rod and Gun Club and then the golf course area at Kings Way with the final report being in the marsh area of Taylor-Bray Farm heading into the town of Dennis.

The bear apparently made its way through Dennis on Wednesday.

By 9 AM yesterday, Brewster Police Lieutenant Heath Eldredge said, credible reports were coming in of sightings near Red Top Road in Brewster.

Sightings were reported slightly later in that town along Stony Brook Road. By midday, the bear had been seen in the area around Paines Creek Road and Route 6A in Brewster.

Mr. Zimmer said environmental officials were tracking the bear’s movements, but had no plans to interfere with the animal unless the bear posed an immediate threat to public safety.

The official advised residents in the area traveled by the bear to secure potential outside sources of food, such as trash or bird seed.

People who see the bear should be cautious and take care not to approach the animal, Mr. Zimmer said.

Meanwhile, he said the bear is afraid of people and will run away from them.Detective Connolly said bears sleep during the day and wander after dark and before sunrise. He said the animals can walk up to 20 miles per day.

Before the bear came to the Cape, Mr. Zimmer said, the animal is believed to be the one that was raiding beehives in the Rochester and Middleborough area.

West Barnstable Fire Chief Joseph Maruca was taking news of the bear in stride Tuesday afternoon.“I don’t think the bear is a threat to the community,”

Chief Maruca said. “They’re pretty shy. They try to avoid people as best they can.

“If you find one in your yard, you left something out for them to try,” he said.

On Tuesday, with news of West Barnstable bear sightings still fresh, Cathy Schofield, the co-owner of The Old Village Store on Route 149, also was calm about the village’s visitor. “He just wants to be part of our community,” Ms. Schofield said. “I think it’s funny that people are making it a big deal.”

Both Ms. Schofield and Wendy K. Northcross, who lives on Route 6A near High Street in West Barnstable, heard helicopters earlier in the week searching for the bear. Ms. Northcross warned her mother, who lives nearby, to keep her cat inside. 

But Ms. Northcross also could not resist dipping into the punning that the bear has spurred in West Barnstable.“It’s bear-y exciting,” she said. And another one: “Think traffic’s a bear? Come to West Barnstable.”

2 Responses to "Bear Makes A Splash On Cape Cod"

  1. Yesterday I thought I was looking at a young black bear, just behind the fencing for our swimming pool. At first I wasn't sure it was an animal, but then it moved slightly. But this seemed preposterous. He or She hung around in one spot for about twenty minutes. It looked like a little black dog, but it wasn't a dog. Very furry. Very black. So I told my husband, and I was laughing, thinking of course it cannot have been a bear! Not here! But he said, look on line, because a black bear has been spotted on the Cape. Could it be? I live in Marshfield Hills. I am not that intrepid about walking down into our land, and besides, it's raining today. Still, I went on line and did what my husband said, and surely a black bear HAS been spotted. This was a young one... not very big. And rather cute. Has any one else in Marshfield seen this?

  2. Hi, I live in Orange County in southern California a few miles from Laguna Beach. Occasionally a coyote or two can be seen inspecting trash barrels in the early morning hours but never any bears. Q.&A. Q. Why did the Black Bear swim across the canal? Answ. Crossing the Borne and Sagamore Bridges are unbearable. (...maybe he should have stayed in the woods on the other side and just be happy doing what brown bears do all day)

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