Outer Banks sits next to one of largest bear concentrations in Southeast, experts say

One of the largest black bear concentrations in the southeastern United States is found in a part of North Carolina most people would not expect, according to the U.S. Department of Interior.

It’s next to the Outer Banks, making the popular barrier islands a rare place to see bears while also tanning on the beach.

Specifically, the cluster of bears is in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, the department said in a Tuesday Facebook post.

“It’s not uncommon for visitors to see dozens of bears on a one-hour drive through the refuge,” the post noted.

The bears don’t always stay, however. Police in the Outer Banks town of Duck had to issue an alert last summer, warning tourists that a bear was seen walking the beach.

“The Town recommends that residents and visitors continue to keep children and pets closely supervised or inside,” said a warning on Facebook.

In March, two anglers in Dare County captured video of a 350-pound bear swimming across the sound near Kill Devil Hills, reported the News & Observer.

Both instances proved North Carolina’s black bears are capable of swimming to the islands -- either voluntarily or pushed by coastal storms.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates nearly 300 bears live in the refuge “with estimated densities of 1-2 bears per square mile.” The site includes more than 150,000 acres spread across Dare and Hyde counties, according to the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge sits along U.S. 64, the major highway taken from the mainland to Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Cape Lookout National Seashore on the Outer Banks.

The department’s post highlighted a recent rare sight at the refuge: A mother bear with four cubs, which is larger than the norm (two or three cubs), according to Bear.org.

An even larger bear concentration lives in the far western part of the state, where 1,500 roam a shared range straddling the North Carolina-Tennessee border, says the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. That’s about two bears per square mile, the park says.

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