Aniakchak National Monument is the least visited location with the National Park System, but back in the day, Aniakchak had one rough resident.
A footprint recently found is the first evidence that Tyrannosaurus rex once roamed in the area that is now part of Katmai National Park.
Park Rangers asked, “If you had seen this while exploring Aniakchak, would you have recognized it as a print?” Going by the photo, I would have to say “Not likely”, but I’ll remain optimistic.
The Monument surrounds the Aniakchak Volcano, which had a devastating eruption 3400 years ago. The Aniakchak caldera is 10 miles across and averages 500 meters deep. Within the crater is Surprise Lake, which is the source of the Aniakchak River.
Besides the lake, Vent Mountain is the other prominent feature within the crater. Vent Mountain is the source of the most recent eruption from Aniakchak, which took place in 1931.
This is the first time in the title round for Bear 901. She’s a 6-1/2 yo female, who was first identified in 2018. The big question in Katmai isn’t whether 901 can knock off the wide body 747 for the crown, but whether she will emerge from the den in 2023 with her first litter of cubs.
Fertilized eggs will not implant in her uterus until she has denned up for the winter. Even then, during hibernation, it will be 901’s body that decides if she is healthy enough and chunky enough to become pregnant. Without ample body fat to get 901 through hibernation and nourish a litter of cubs, the pregnancy will not occur.
747 on the other hand, being a large male, only has to worry about getting enough fat reserves to see himself through hibernation. Being one of the largest bears on planet earth, I think 747 has hit his goals. Although, no doubt, he is still putting on the calories.
Images credit: Katmai National Park & Preserve/photographer listed; Bio info credit: Katmai NP&P
The Competition gets serious:Chunk vs The Wide Body
Bear #32 was first identified at Brooks Falls in 2007, when he appeared as a “chunky” 2-1/2 yo bear. Thus, his nickname. Even when Chunk is at his leanest, he is carrying a vast supply of fat reserves. His size allows him to command the prime salmon spots, and he has the scars to show that he isn’t afraid to mix it up to take over those fishing holes. But Chunk is a complicated bruin, and he is also known to patiently wait “his turn” to fish, and is often seen playing with other bears. Both are rare activities for dominant brown bears.
2020 Champ, 747, takes on Chunk in this round’s battle of the titans. Today’s winner might very well go on to the title.
Image credits and biography info go to Katmai National Park
Bear #164 is a 5yo adult male. First identified in 2019, 164 does not compete for fishing spots, but instead created his own. He fishes the base of Brooks Falls on the edge of the deepest pool. No current bear fishes the spot, and none have in recent memory.
Bear #335 is a subadult female, and the daughter of previous champion Holly. This summer was her first as an independent bear. 335 is the youngest bear in the bracket, having won the Junior Bear Title. As a smaller bear, she also didn’t fight for prime fishing holes, but instead harvested spawned out salmon down river.
Round 1: The Rivals
Bear #747 – Wide Body, is one of my favorite bears at Brooks Falls. 747 is also one of the largest brown bears on the planet, tipping in at roughly 1400 pounds this time of year. When he was first spotted at Brooks Falls in 2004, 747 was unable to compete for fishing spots with larger bears. How times have changed as bears move out of his way these days when he approaches. #747 was the 2020 Fat Bear Champion.
For years, Bear 747 gave way to only one bear: #856. That changed in 2021, when 747 displaced 856 in the large bear hierarchy. Between 2011 and 2020, 856 was the top bruin on the falls. His aggressive disposition and willingness to take on any challenger led to many fights, all of which were victories. This summer, 856 refused to give up his title easily, and frequently challenged 747 for the best fishing spots.
Photos come courtesy of Katmai National Park & Preserve; photographers listed below photos
After a two year hiatus, the citizen scientist event, Cook Inlet Belugas Count, is back on for 2022. The event, hosted by NOAA, will take place Saturday, September 17.
Canaries of the Sea: Belugas are quite vocal: They chirp, squeak, click and whistle. Alaska has five populations of the white whale, and the Cook Inlet population is the only one listed as endangered. At last count, the population was thought to be around 279 whales.
Beluga whales, like humpbacks, can be identified as individuals by their natural markings. Many are known by their numbers, and a few, like the bears of Katmai, have nicknames.
Members of the public are invited to join NOAA at stations around Cook Inlet to identify and count beluga whales. The event is free and open to everyone, and families are encouraged to join the beluga celebration. Details can be found on the Beluga Count facebook page.