If the bear was provoked, there is no wonder it "attacked", it was just doing what bears do. Too many people obviously do not have any idea what a black bear can do, even a small one.
Black bears are predators, and in the GSMNP, they are the top of the food chain. Many people simply do not understand the mentality and the insticts of the bears. For too long, the black bear has been portrayed as a "cuddly" animal, when nothing is further from the truth. Black bears can be dangerous animals. Actually, when comparing a black bear's potential to attack versus the grizzly's, I'll go up against the grizzly anytime. The grizzly bear usually only attacks when it is provoked or is protecting its cubs, food or territory. While the black bear also displays these habits, there is one major difference in the two animals; the grizzly attack is almost always defensive, while if a black bear attacks, it has decided that you are food. One of the ways to "combat" a grizzly attack is to drop and curl up into a fetal position, and try not to make a sound. Generally, if the bear gets no response, it will quit and go off on its own business. A black bear, on the other hand, will continue to attack and/or maul, as it is going to EAT you.
When you see a black bear in the wild, obviously, you want to try to avoid provoking or startling the animal. However, if you do find yourself in a situation where you are confronted, there are a few simple things to do to protect yourself.
Also, just as another note, pepper spray, while fairly effective as a deterrent on a grizzly bear, is not nearly as effective on a black bear. They just react differently to the stuff.
- Do NOT turn and run. This action provokes the "prey" response in the bear, and it will chase you. Instead, slowly and steadily back away from the bear.
- As you are backing away, do NOT make eye contact. Eye contact is a threatening action to the bear. Watch it, and at the same time, look around for a large stick to pick up as a defensive weapon. Bang the stick against trees, rocks or whatever, but not the ground. Hitting it against the ground simulates an aggressive bear behavior.
- Make noise...yell, scream or whatever. The animal will not like the noise, and may retreat.
- If you have a jacket or a backpack on, take it off and toss it off to the side, yet towards the bear, like on a 45° angle. The animal will most likely go after the offering, giving you more time to back away to a safe distance. I know it may be a sacrilege, but if you have a fish in your vest, that may be the best thing to toss off to the side of the bear.
Overall, stay alert to your surroundings, and respect that you are invading the bear's home.