The Fats Bears Of Katmai – And How They Acquired There – The Bristol Dinosaur Challenge Weblog


Visitor Writer: Sophie Pollard
Palaeobiology MSc Pupil

Whereas residents of the town of Bristol and the remainder of the UK will keep in mind the summer time of 2022 for its record-breaking heatwave, data of a unique type have been set within the Bristol Bay space of Alaska, with sockeye salmon returning in increased numbers than any recorded earlier than. That is nice information for the fauna of Katmai Nationwide Park, and by extension, for followers of Katmai Nationwide Park’s Fats Bear Week, an annual occasion through which the bears of Katmai compete to see who greatest drags the competitors, by how a lot their bellies drag alongside the bottom.

Fig 1. Two of this yr’s favourites, 480 “Otis” (prime), final yr’s champion and presumably the oldest male common at Brooks Falls, and 747 “Bear Drive One” (backside), winner of Fats Bear Week 2020 and one in every of (if not the) heaviest bear within the working (or is lumbering a greater phrase?), clocking in at an estimated 1,400 kilos or 635 kg every time hibernation rolls round. Picture credit score: L. Regulation

Every year, between the months of June and October, the bears of Katmai nationwide park and the Bristol Bay space (Alaska) race in opposition to the clock to place on the kilos earlier than they hibernate in winter, a lifestyle I’m certain many people aspire to. And for an space which boasts extra brown bears than folks, and the healthiest run of Sockeye salmon on the planet, it’s a good time to have fun the richness of the Katmai and Bristol Bay ecosystem with some chubby Ursidae. Fats bear week started in 2012 and is now celebrating its 10-year anniversary of reside cameras posted at Brooks Falls, and naturally the general public vote to find out which well-known bear has placed on probably the most blubber.

This presents a fantastic alternative to dive into the geological and ecological historical past of Katmai nationwide park and the broader Bristol Bay space and into the fascinating evolutionary historical past of the brown bear.

Geological Significance – Volcanic Exercise

Katmai isn’t solely well-known for the enormity of its bear inhabitants (in each quantity and dimension). In actual fact, the realm owes its nationwide park standing to its distinctive and interesting geology, notably for its volcanic exercise. The park has over a dozen energetic volcanoes, and eruptions are frequent inside its boundaries, the biggest and most well-known being the 1912 eruption of Mount Katmai and Novarupta volcano, the biggest volcanic occasion of its century.

Enormous quantities of ash and pumice had been ejected from the Novarupta crater, destroying virtually the whole lot that stood in its method. Volcanic deposits as thick as 300 ft would cowl over 40 sq. miles inside a matter of minutes. In the meantime, the highest of Mount Katmai collapsed in on itself, forming a caldera.

Fig 2. Mount Katmai and its crater lake, reaching 6716 ft on the caldera rim and 4220 ft on the caldera flooring. Picture credit score:

Geological surveying carried out by the Nationwide Geographic Society over the subsequent few years would reveal the volcano and the encircling areas to be a lot modified. The adjoining Ukak river valley, as soon as lined with shrubland and tundra, was now fully lined with pumice and ash, which fashioned a mess of steam and gasoline producing vents (fumaroles) because it cooled. The realm is now often known as the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, and it was largely due to the efforts of people who found the characteristic that Katmai was designated a nationwide monument in 1918.

One other well-known characteristic of the park is the glacier that sits on the within wall of the caldera fashioned by the collapse of Mount Katmai in 1912. Because of this the glacier is presumably the one one on this planet to have a identified date of origin.

A Quick Historical past Of Brown Bears

The phrase “bear” comes from the previous English “bera”, which in flip, got here from the Proto-Germanic “bero” or brown one, which is assumed to have been invented as a euphemism for the terrifying apex predators of historic Northern Europe, a prehistoric “he who should not be named”. Different northern European language teams went a barely completely different route with their re-naming of the iron age Voldemort, with Slavic languages adopting phrases which means “honey-eater”, and Baltic teams going with phrases which means “bushy” or “shaggy”.

The predecessor of the modern-day brown bear is mostly believed to be the Etruscan bear, or Ursus etruscus, which lived from round 5.3 million to 10, 000 years in the past, when it was worn out throughout the latest glacial interval. It might have been related in dimension and construct to the modern-day black bear and got here to be discovered all throughout Eurasia, and a few elements of North Africa.

Fig 3. The 1.5 to 2 million yr previous stays (together with the decrease jaw) or an Etruscan bear, discovered just lately within the Taurida Cave on the Crimean Peninsula. The discover was reported in Historic Biology in Could of this yr, following excavations starting in 2020. Picture credit score: Anastasia Mavrenkova

The oldest identified brown bear fossil was present in China and is estimated to be roughly 0.5 million years previous, however it’s thought that the brown bear would have first advanced round 800,000 years in the past earlier than spreading all through the Asian continent, reaching so far as Japan by 340, 000 years in the past.

Getting into Europe not lengthy after, roughly 0.25 million years in the past, the brown bear would seemingly have come into contact with its sister taxon the cave bear, which has additionally descended from the Etruscan bear a couple of tens of 1000’s of years earlier than.

Cave bear stays are quite common all throughout Europe. One collapse Austria (a part of the Drachenhohle caves) was even discovered to have the bones of over 30,000 people, which might have gathered over many centuries. With enamel tailored for consuming vegetation, the cave bear would have been at the least principally herbivorous however would have spent its summers placing on fats earlier than hibernating for the winter months when meals was scarce, very similar to the modern-day brown bear.

The species coexisted with brown bears in Europe for a number of 1000’s of years earlier than they lastly went extinct round 10,000 years in the past, and the precise purpose for his or her disappearance is considerably of a thriller. Competitors for area with the brown bear would seemingly have performed an element, however cave work portraying the searching of cave bears by people level fingers at one other perpetrator.

The motion of brown bears into the Americas is a bit more sophisticated. It’s thought that the primary brown bears in North America would have crossed the Bering land bridge (which might have stretched between Russia and Alaska during times of low sea degree), earlier than 100,000 years in the past, nevertheless, it’s now broadly believed that it took a number of waves of migrations for the brown bear to colonise the North American continent.

The primary brown bears to seem in North America had been roughly worn out previous to the latest ice age occasion, presumably resulting from a interval of warming temperatures, which might have brought on a change within the abundance of varied crops, and due to this fact in prey animals. It wouldn’t be till the subsequent glacial interval when sea ranges sank and the Bering land bridge was as soon as once more uncovered, that the brown bear would recolonise the continent, Seemingly alongside the primary people to settle in North America.

Brown bears are current all throughout the northern hemisphere right this moment and are clever sufficient to determine a approach to thrive even in our personal more and more urbanised environments, with one Yosemite forest ranger going so far as to state “there’s appreciable overlap between the intelligence of the neatest of bears and the dumbest vacationers” when questioned in regards to the design of bear-proof bins.

Fig 4. “Hank the Tank”, a black bear who completely demonstrated the adaptability of bears earlier this yr as he turned to a lifetime of crime. Hank was accused in February of breaking into 30 houses in Lake Tahoe California however was later exonerated resulting from DNA Proof proving that there have been at the least 3 paw possessing perpetrators. Picture credit score: South Lake Tahoe Police Division/BearLeague

The historical past of the brown bear is one which demonstrates how weak to alter our ecosystems might be, but additionally the immense potential for species to adapt to a altering world. what higher purpose to have fun the ecosystems that also thrive throughout our planet, and to guard them for future generations to get pleasure from?


Fats bear week web site reside bear cam (Brooks Falls)

Sophie Pollard is a present Masters scholar of the Palaeobiology course on the College of Bristol.

Edited by Rhys Charles


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