OLYMPIA—The wife of a man seriously injured Friday evening in a black bear attack near Lake Wenatchee probably saved her husband from worse injury by shouting and keeping the animal at bay, according to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) experts.
“Black bear attacks on humans are rare, and this bear appears to have been exceptionally aggressive” said Donny Martorello, WDFW’s carnivore specialist. “The victim’s wife appears to have done everything right—she shouted, stood her ground and attempted to drive off the bear. Those actions likely prevented even worse injury.”
The victim, John Chelminiak of Bellevue, was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle following the attack.
A Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologist and three enforcement officers killed a bear—a 148-pound, mature, adult female without cubs—a few hours later about 100 yards from the attack site. One of WDFW’s specially trained Karelian bear dogs was used to locate the bear. WDFW policy is to kill dangerous wildlife that attacks a human.
WDFW officials offer the following advice to minimize the risk of injury if a bear is encountered in the wild:
- Don't run. Pick up small children, stand tall, wave your arms above your head and shout.
- Do not approach the animal and be sure to leave it an escape route. Try to get upwind of the bear so that it can identify you as a human and leave the area.
- Don’t look the bear directly in the eye, as the animal may interpret this as a sign of aggression.
- If the animal does attack, fight back aggressively.
This year black bears may be more visible or show up in unusual settings because late-summer wild berries—part of bears’ natural diet—are in short supply, Martorello said. The bear involved in Friday’s attack was thin for this time of year, but did not appear to be starving, he said.
Typically, black bears avoid people but can pose a safety risk if they become habituated to human food sources. Bears become overly familiar with humans if they are fed or find unsecured garbage, bird seed, pet food, windfall fruit or compost piles.
“People should never feed bears or allow them access to garbage or pet food,” said Martorello.
Black bear attacks on humans are rare. There have been four other bear attacks on humans and one reported fatality in Washington, according to historical records.
WDFW conducted a complete necropsy on the bear and sent tissue samples to a wildlife laboratory for disease testing. Results of disease tests are expected later this week. DNA samples were collected from the bear to confirm it was the animal involved in the attack.
“Based on the proximity to the attack site and the bear’s aggressive behavior, we’re confident the animal that was euthanized is the one involved in the attack,” said Mike Cenci, WDFW’s deputy chief of enforcement.
Washington’s black bear population is estimated at 25,000 to 30,000 animals, Martorello said. Black bear are classified as a game species and may be harvested during prescribed hunting seasons by licensed hunters who have purchased bear tags.
WDFW receives an average of about 417 black bear complaints annually, ranging from glimpses of bears to encounters.
Problem bear encounters may be reported to local WDFW regional offices, or WDFW’s dangerous wildlife reporting line, 1-877-933-9847. In an emergency, dial 911.
For more information on bears, see WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/bears.html.