One of the oldest – and most beloved – bears at Katmai National Park finally returns to Brooks Falls

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Katmai National Park has a 24-hour live stream of Brooks Falls every summer. Hoards of bears gather there to catch salmon and it’s a popular spot for crowds to watch them. Bear 480, also known as ‘Otis,’ arrived at Brooks Falls on July 26, the latest he’s been noticed yet. 

Bear 480, Otis, matched his latest appearance to the falls yet. The last time he appeared on cameras this late was also on July 26, back in 2021. Photo from July 2023. (F. Jimenez/National Park Service)

Fans feared the bear had passed away, but the elderly ursine just slept in before making his first appearance on the national park’s cameras. Otis has become sort of a fan favorite and a consistent contender for the fattest bear. 

Felicia Jimenez, a media ranger for Katmai National Park, said his late appearance is most likely because of a later salmon run in Bristol Bay. 

“Things are a little bit slower to wake and we’re definitely seeing that with the salmon run,” Jimenez said. “The water level’s a little bit higher, the water has been colder, so we’re seeing the salmon a little bit slower to arrive – I’d say about a week or two late.”

Bear 480 usually comes out in late June or early July. Some fans thought he might not have survived the winter, but Otis finally showed up on the park’s cameras last week. 

Bears aren’t the only wildlife that can be seen from the live stream, several birds also scavenge on leftovers. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

Jimenez said most bears that get to that age usually rely more on scavenging or begging for fish from other bears, but the public ought not worry about Otis. Bears usually live to about 20 years old, but she said he’s still pretty spry for a 27-year-old. 

“There’s still really good signs that we’re seeing from him,” she said. “He’s super old, but he’s still very active. When he showed up, he was immediately catching fish and those are positive signs. He’s still active, he’s still moving around.” 

Viewers of the park’s live cameras can identify him with a few grey and white swirls in his brown coat and some damage to his left ear. 

Two bears vying for a prime fishing spot near Brooks Falls. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

“He is also missing a lot of teeth – he only has about two teeth,” Jimenez said. “So if you see a bear with a floppy left year, who’s pretty old and he’s got like two teeth, that is definitely 480.” 

Otis is also a consistent contender for the title of fattest bear at the falls during the national park’s annual Fat Bear Week in early October. Park rangers create a bracket of some of the biggest bears that wander the area and the public can vote online for the fattest bear around. 

“That competition is pretty subjective,” Jimenez said. “Some people vote for their favorite or which bear they think embodies fat, healthy bears the most. And so even though he’s not the fattest bear anymore, he’s usually up there in the finalists pretty much every year.” 

Otis has won four times so far. Some of his rivals for the title include Bear 747, sometimes called Bear Force One, who won last year, and Bear 435, also known as  Holly. 

With a later arrival though, Otis will have his work cut out for him if the old man wants to be declared the park’s fattest bear a fifth time. 

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