Welcome back to the third and final installment of the Brown Bears of Brooks Falls blog and video series. In the last episode, we took a look at a death-defying mother bear and her cubs who boldly took on the established bear hierarchy along the Brooks River. In this installment, we’ll meet two of the major players in that established hierarchy: Otis, one of the oldest bears in the area, and 747, one of the biggest bears on the river and also a former Katmai National Park Fat Bear Week contest winner.
Meet Otis, otherwise known as bear # 480 for identification purposes. He’s one of the oldest bears who frequents Brooks Falls each year to fish for salmon and get fattened up for winter hibernation. According to officials at Katmai National Park and Preserve, he was first identified in 2001 as an older subadult bear. That would make him around 25 years old as of this writing, which is quite old for a brown bear in the wild and pretty close to his maximum life span.
As with all bears who are monitored and studied over long periods of time, distinguishing marks are used to identify them from other bears. Otis has tan-tipped claws, distinct scars on both sides of his neck, as well as a prominent scar above his right eye. The cartilage in one of his ears is damaged, resulting in it being flopped over. He has a thick, wrinkled neck, and he’s also missing his canine teeth, which thankfully doesn’t keep him from consuming the massive amount of food he needs for survival. Despite these unique characteristics though, it can still be challenging at times to identify certain bears. In fact, this is the second version of this blog and video that I made. I misidentified Otis in some of the footage in the first version, which thankfully a viewer pointed out to me, so I had to remake it.
Otis is a bear with a rather efficient fishing technique. While younger, smaller, more agile bears can burn many precious calories from wandering up and down the river all day and chasing fish all over the place, when Otis shows up on the scene, he slowly moves along to his favorite spot at Brooks Falls, known as the “jacuzzi.” This is an area where many fish gather in an attempt to swim up the falls, thus making them easier to catch for bears who are big enough and dominant enough to secure such a coveted area.
While Otis isn’t nearly as aggressive as some of the other big male bears in the area, he rarely gets displaced from his preferred fishing spot. However, in recent years, he has succumbed to the pressure of a few of the bigger, stronger bears who muscle him out of the jacuzzi and even steal his fish. One of the bears who often takes over the jacuzzi is bear #747. Like Otis, he’s become very good at catching fish in this area of the falls and he also seems to be fairly tolerant of other less dominant bears.
Park official first identified 747 as a subadult in 2004, which, like Otis, makes him an old bear. 747 is also one of the biggest, fattest bears on the Brooks River. A survey team from the park scanned him a couple of years ago and estimated his weight to be over 1,400 lbs! 747 gets so incredibly fat that by the end of the salmon run he’s eaten so many fish that his belly sometimes even touches the ground! Yes indeed, his renowned ability to bulk up paid off in 2020 when he won the coveted title of Katmai National Park’s Fat Bear Week.
Watch the video below to see more!