Old Fat Bear Has Returned, And People Are Celebrating

One of the oldest and most beloved bears in Alaska’s Katmai National Park has arrived for the salmon season just in time.

Bear 480 Otis is a brown bear estimated to be about 27 years old, making him something of an ursine elder statesman.

Otis and another unidentified bear in an undated photo.

Ian Stotesbury via Getty Images

“A bear that’s around 30 years of age is approaching what would be the equivalent of a 100-year-old person,” Mike Fitz, former Katmai park ranger now the resident naturalist at Explore.org, told The Washington Post. “Most bears don’t have the fortune of living that long.”

Fitz is also the creator of Fat Bear Week, the annual sensation that brought Otis to the national spotlight. Every summer, brown bears return to the park’s Brooks River to fish for salmon and bulk up for winter hibernation. Fat Bear Week takes place in the fall, when the bears have gained significant mass, and is a March Madness-style bracket in which fans can vote on their favorite chunk.

Otis is a four-time winner of the competition, most recently taking the crown in 2021. His popularity and age have won him the epithet “King Otis.” But Katmai Ranger Cheryl Spencer previously told Outsider that he also has a slightly less dignified nickname.

“We call him ‘Floaty Otie’ in the fall,” she said, explaining that he typically starts hunting for salmon in the lower part of Brooks River, then when autumn hits, “slowly floats to Brooks Falls as he’s fishing.”

Earlier this month, watchers of Explore.org’s bear live cam started getting concerned when Otis hadn’t shown up at the river alongside his fellow bears. But on Wednesday, the animal livestream site became the bearers of good news.

“REJOICE!! KING OTIS HAS RETURNED!” the site posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, alongside a clip of the thin and somewhat bedraggled-looking senior bear standing in the rush of the river.

Climate change is having a worrying impact on salmon and the bears like Otis, who depend on them.

“The last time he showed up this late, salmon were also late, and the salmon were late this year as well,” Explore.org spokesperson Candice Rusch told the Post. “What we’ve been seeing in Alaska is that the salmon run has been trending later into July, which means for bears like Otis waiting longer to eat that salmon.”

This year, Otis was seen successfully catching fish shortly after his late arrival. Many human admirers of the long-lived creature expressed joy and relief that he would be around for another season.

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