A human head was discovered near a lake in Japan, leading local authorities to believe the man was attacked and decapitated by a bear.

Officials believe the remains belong to Toshihiro Nishikawa, 54. But they are yet to officially confirm the man's identity.

Nishikawa had gone fishing at Lake Shumarinai in Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido before he disappeared. The man went all by himself and was last seen when a boat dropped him off early morning Sunday, the New York Post reported.

A large brown bear was later spotted near the lake by a boat operator, who raised the alarm after seeing waders — long rubber boots that fishers often wear — hanging from the animal's mouth.

Attempts were made to contact Nishikawa by phone to warn the lone fisherman about the bear. But there was no answer.

Officials launched a hunt for the bear and the missing fisherman, reported CBS News.

A member of the search group reportedly killed a bear Monday afternoon. The group also found a human head near the lake. Investigators are waiting for confirmation on whether the head belongs to Nishikawa.

Bears are frequently spotted in Hokkaido. Two people have reportedly been injured in bear attacks so far this year.

Local media outlets have also reported an increase in bear sightings in the region in 2023. About 339 bear sightings were reported as of May 11, which is more than the number of reports during the same period last year. The year 2022 also saw a record report of 2,240 bear sightings.

The successful recovery of the bear population could be one of the reasons behind the uptick in their sightings.

"Perhaps the main one is that the bear population of Hokkaido has recovered after years of overhunting and as there are simply fewer hunters now," Kevin Short, a naturalist and professor at Tokyo University of Information Studies, told the South China Morning Post.

"The deer population has also recovered, which is a key food source, while there have also been efforts across the prefecture to restore natural habitats in woodlands and along rivers, all of which increases the bears' range," Short went on to say.

Representational image (bear)
Representational image (Source: Pixabay / Miller_Eszter)