Florida FWC Biologist Saves Drowning Bear
June 28, 2008
A 375-pound male black bear with a penchant for beachfront
browsing was on dry land Saturday after a Florida Fish and
Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologist pulled the
tranquilized animal from Gulf of Mexico waters in Florida’s
“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I jumped in,” said
biologist Adam Warwick, who saw the bear struggling in the warm
Gulf waters after it had been hit with a tranquilizer dart.
“It was a spur of the moment decision,” he said. “I had a lot of
adrenaline pumping when I saw the bear in the water.” (continued
Photo provided to FWC courtesy of Becky Bickerstaff
|The bear was roaming through a residential area Tuesday on
Alligator Point, a neighborhood of about 100 homes on a small
peninsula about 40 miles south of Tallahassee.
To prevent bears from wandering into residential neighborhoods, the
FWC urges residents to secure garbage cans and other sources of food
that might attract bears.
FWC officials responded to reports of a bear in the area and found
the animal underneath a beachfront home. Their plan was to move it
to a remote location, back in the wild.
The tranquilizer dart took longer than expected to work, and Warwick
said the animal bolted into the Gulf in an effort to escape.
Warwick was worried the bear was already showing the effects of the
immobilizing drug and that the bear couldn’t swim the four miles to
“At that point, I decided to go in after the bear,” Warwick said. “I
wanted to keep him from swimming into deeper water.”
The animal was about 25 yards from shore when he jumped into the
“I was in the water swimming toward the bear, trying to prevent him
from swimming into deeper water,” Warwick said. “He was now losing
function (an effect of the drugs) in his arms and legs, and was
obviously in distress.”
Warwick said he tried to splash and create commotion in an attempt
to get the bear to head back to the shore.
“Instead, the clearly confused bear looked at me as if he was either
going to go by, through or over me . . . and at times he even looked
as if he was just going to climb on top of me to keep from
Warwick said that after a few minutes the bear reared up on his hind
legs as if to lunge at him, but instead fell straight backwards and
“At that point I knew I had to keep the bear from drowning,” he
said. “After a few seconds the bear popped his head up out of the
water and thrashed around a bit, but could obviously no longer keep
his head above water.”
Warwick kept one arm underneath the bear and the other gripping the
scruff of its neck to keep the bear’s head above water. Warwick said
he walked barefoot over concrete blocks crusted with barnacles in
the 4-foot-deep water as he tried to guide and use the water to help
float the bear back to shore.
He said he cut his feet on the barnacles and the bear scratched him
once on the foot, but he was otherwise uninjured.
Area resident Wendy Chandler said Warwick looked like a lifeguard,
pulling a tired swimmer to shore.
During Warwick’s trek, FWC Officer Travis Huckeba and a bystander
with a boat approached Warwick and the bear in the water. The bear
was startled and Warwick lost his grip until the boat backed off.
Warwick said the bear’s buoyancy made his job less difficult.
“It’s a lot easier to drag a bear in 4-foot water than move him on
dry land,” he said.
When Warwick and the bear made it to shore, “A bystander arrived out
of nowhere with a backhoe and, with some assistance, we were able to
load the bear into the bucket and then into an FWC truck,” Warwick
Thad Brett, a general contractor who lives in the area and had a
backhoe for work he was doing to his house, said his wife had seen
the commotion and told him Warwick was trying to get the bear out of
“I knew how hard it would be to get that bear out,” Brett said. “I
could see he was about waist-deep in the water, and I came down with
Brett said he positioned the bucket of the backhoe in the water so
the bear could be lifted out and moved to the truck bed.
“It’s good to have good guys like (Warwick) around,” Brett said.
“We’re real glad to have the FWC come out and help us with these
bears, and we were real glad the bear was going to be relocated.”
The bear was transported to the FWC Tate’s Hell office and Warwick
and FWC’s Ron Copley relocated the bear to the Osceola National
Forest near Lake City.
“He was going up under people’s houses, probably trying to cool
off,” Chandler said. “Kids were going up and down the stairs and
anything might happen. We’re all pulling for the bear to get
adjusted in his new home.”