This bear won’t win Fat Bear Week, but ‘other bears know his reputation’

Katmai's Bear 856
YouTube/@explorelivenaturecams

Even the toughest competitors need to step away from the spotlight sometimes. But when it comes to Fat Bear Week, visibility is everything, and being camera-shy won’t help your chances.

One of Katmai National Park and Preserve’s most formidable brown bears is missing from the Fat Bear Week bracket this year, but it’s not because he’s gone skinny. It’s because Katmai park rangers couldn’t snap a good photo of him in time: Bear 856.

If bears spoke English, his numerical name alone would inspire anxiety. As it is, his mighty presence is enough to intimidate even the most fearsome boars. This clip explains why:

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In short, “other bears know his reputation,” Mark Fitz, a former Katmai park ranger and current naturalist for Explore.org, told Mashable. “They know his size. They know his fighting skills.”

Bear 856 is an older bear — Fitz estimates he’s at least 20 years old — but his aggressive streak is enough to spook younger, larger bruins.

And when it really counts, that bad reputation is key. Right now, bears are gobbling up salmon in Katmai, attempting to get as beefy as possible before winter hibernation hits. (You can watch them on the park’s webcams.)

Since mid-summer, bears have competed for the best fishing spots along the Brooks River. If a bear thinks it can knock someone out of the way to take a prime location, they’ll go for it.

But Bear 856 makes even the biggest, baddest dudes think twice.

Check out this clip, posted by explore.org on X (formerly Twitter), showing 856 squaring up to a young bruiser dubbed 32 Chunk:

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Bear 856 barges right in front of 32 Chunk as he’s fishing — and Chunk decides, pretty quickly, that he isn’t interested in a fight over territory.

The Chunkster is no slouch! He’s one of the area’s most dominant males. He’s even pushed around Bear 747, the two-time Fat Bear champ and the largest bear in the Brooks River population.

But all it takes is a snarl from Bear 856 and 32 Chunk meekly gives up his spot.

Hopefully next year park rangers get better snaps of 856 so he can join the Fat Bear Week festivities. Justice for 856!

As it stands, today is the last day of voting in this year’s poll, and the final matchup is a doozy: The magnificent female Grazer versus massive 32 Chunk.

You can vote for the champion of Fat Bear 2023 here.

Animals, News, Wild Animals
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About the Author
Kathleen St. John
Kathleen St. John is a freelance journalist. She lives in Denver with her husband, two kids and a fiercely protective Chihuahua.

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