The SouthCoast is not a place you might expect to run into a black bear, but the experts say your chance of an encounter improves as the animals expand their range eastward across Massachusetts.

According to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, "Though Massachusetts is the third most densely-populated state in the country, black bears have been increasing in numbers and distribution since the 1970s."

Black bear sightings have been reported in Rehoboth, Wareham, Marion, Middleboro and even Fall River in recent years. MassWildlife says, "The statewide population of bears is estimated to be over 4,500 animals and is growing and expanding eastward."

Mass Audubon estimates the black bear population increases by about eight percent annually.

South Coast More Likely To See Black Bears As Population Shifts
Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife Photo

While black bears are generally found in the Berkshires, Worcester County and northern Middlesex County, they have also made their way east of the Interstate 495 corridor.

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Get our free mobile app reported, "Due to deforestation and wide-open hunting laws, black bears were rare in the state throughout the 1800s and the early parts of the 1900s."

"Even into the 1970s, black bears only existed as a small and isolated population in the Berkshire Mountains," wrote.

South Coast More Likely To See Black Bears As Population Shifts
Buttonwood Park Zoo

More stringent hunting regulations introduced in 1952 resulted in a "black bear boom."

MassWildlife has launched MassBears, a project to monitor and track the bear population and migration habits. The last density study was conducted in 1993.

MassWildlife offers tips to avoid attracting black bears to your property, such as keeping your rash covered and secure and cleaning your backyard grill regularly. The site also includes suggestions for what to do should you encounter a bear.

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