Bruin Baywatch: Biologist Saves Drowning Bear

Warning: Don’t try this on your next trip to the beach.

Florida Fish and Wildlife biologist Adam Warwick took a leap of faith—literally—and saved a 375-pound black bear from drowning in the Gulf of Mexico last week when the bruin bolted into the water minutes after being shot with a tranquilizer dart.

“It was a spur of the moment decision,” Warwick said. “I had a lot of adrenaline pumping when I saw the bear in the water.”

The bear had reportedly been roaming a residential area on Alligator Point, a neighborhood of about 100 homes on a small peninsula about 40 miles south of Tallahassee.

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When FWC officials responded to reports of a bear in the area on Tuesday, they found it beneath a beachfront home—evidently trying to stay cool in the summer heat. Soon after they shot it with a tranquilizer dart, the big bruin attempted to escape by bolting across the beach and into the waters of the Gulf. (Florida Fish and Wildlife photo)

Warwick said the bear was showing effects of the immobilizing drug, and he feared the animal would surely drown if he didn’t intervene.

“At that point, I decided to go in after the bear,” Warwick said. “I wanted to keep him from swimming into deeper water.”

At first Warwick said he splashed and made noise in an attempt to drive the bear back to the shore under its own power.

“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 drowning.”

Warwick said the bear reared up on his hind legs as if to lunge at him, but instead fell straight backward and went under water.

“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 under the bear and the other gripping the back of its neck to keep its head above water as the two slowly floated back to shore. He said the bear’s natural buoyancy made his rescue job less difficult than one might think.

“It’s a lot easier to drag a bear in 4-foot water than move him on dry land,” he said.

Thanks to the gutsy efforts of one dedicated wildlife biologist, the bear survived his ordeal and was transported to Osceola National Forest near Lake City, where he was released—many miles from the pristine panhandle beaches and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Since news of Warwick's heroics have been made public, he's received requests for interviews from dozens of national and foreign electronic and print-media sources, according to Stan Kirkland, public information officer for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.

"His best quote so far has been to a St. Petersburg Times reporter who asked him whether he'd ever received any formal training as a lifeguard," Kirkland said. "He told her, 'Everything I've learned about lifeguarding has been from Baywatch!"