Bigfoot has never gone away, despite there never being any hard proof that the famed cryptozoological creature actually exists. So it’s unlikely that a new statistical analysis that claims many Bigfoot encounters can be explained as misidentified black bear sightings will make much difference to people’s beliefs on the matter.
Nevertheless, the new study does seem to show that at least some sightings are very likely to have been caused by this particular error. While previous analyses had already identified a correlation between ‘sasquatch’ or ‘bigfoot’ sightings and black bear (Ursus americanus) populations in the Pacific Northwest, this latest research expanded the analysis to the entire US and Canada.
In the study (“If it’s there, could it be a bear?“), researcher Floe Foxon sourced Bigfoot/sasquatch sighting reports from the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization Geographic Database of Bigfoot/Sasquatch Sightings & Reports, and analysed them statistically against black bear sightings, while controlling for differences in population and land area:
Sasquatch sightings are logically a function of the number of people in each state/province available to make a sighting, and the size (land area) of each state/province (because interactions between hypothetical sasquatches and humans are probably less likely when both populate an area sparsely). Consequently, a model was implemented which investigated the possible association between sightings and bear populations while also adjusting for the potential impact of human population and land area. This was a linear mixed-effects regression model which regressed the number of sasquatch sighting reports in each state/province on the black bear population, human population, and land area of each state/province.
Foxon’s analysis found that “black bear population was significantly associated with sasquatch reports such that, on the average, one sasquatch sighting is expected for every 900 black bears in a given state or province”.
These findings are in agreement with the results of previous studies by Blight (2005a) and Lozier et al.(2009), and suggest that many supposed sasquatch sightings in North America are likely misidentified black bears.
Even still, black bears very likely can’t explain all encounters. As Foxon concedes, sasquatch sightings have also been reported in states with no known breeding black bear populations (although, if we’re considering a cryptozoological explanation, perhaps previously unknown populations of black bears should be considered just as likely?). But he is happy enough to dismiss these sightings on a similar basis: “Although this may be interpreted as evidence for the existence of an unknown hominid in North America, it is also explained by misidentification of other animals (including humans), among other possibilities.”
Foxon also recently published a separate statistical study on a specific explanation for another famed cryptobeast – but in that case, he found that the Loch Ness Monster was unlikely to be explained by it being a giant eel.