Fat Bear Week brings the wonder and joy of our Cook Inlet bears to people around the world! This year–for the fourth time!!–Otis (or brown bear 480) was crowned king!
Otis–relying on the amazing rich nutrients in Katmai–ended the season weighing over 1,000 pounds. Not the largest bear of the bunch but a survivor! Otis is estimated at 25 years old, woke up late and skinny, and can’t compete with the younger bears for the prime fishing spots but still came out on top!
The “Bear Coast” of Cook Inlet is simply amazing. Katmai National Park & Preserve has an incredible 2,200 brown bears and almost 62 million sockeye salmon in the park every year. Lake Clark National Park & Preserve supports ridiculous brown bear densities–219 in 54 square miles on the coast. Further south, Kodiak has the LARGEST brown bears in the world–weighing up to 1,500 pounds and can be over 10’ tall on a male’s hind legs!
Bears (and other carnivores) are particularly vulnerable to oil exposure. Not only through direct exposure but also through eating contaminated sea birds, marine mammals, and fish. In the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident, oil reached the bear coast and Kodiak. Only about 2% of the 11 million gallons of spilled oil reached the Alaska Peninsula and these shores were largely only lightly oiled yet 15% of bears tested at Katmai after the spill had ingested oil and scientists believe at least two yearlings were killed due to oil exposure.
Although the bears in Katmai and Lake Clark survived the Exxon Valdez spill relatively unscathed, we also got lucky. The oil mostly didn’t coat the shores, toxicity had decreased before reaching the shores, and the spill occurred prior to the bears heavily relying on coastal areas.
We may not get “lucky” again–a spill in Lower Cook Inlet could reach our bear coast or Kodiak much quicker and at much more devastating times of the year. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement estimates a 19% chance of one or more oil spills of at least 42,000 gallons over the exploration and production time frame. When and where these spills occur would change how “lucky” our bears will be. But this is not just about protecting the brown bears, it is also about protecting our vital bear economy that supports more than 500 jobs and more than 34 million in sales annually.
You can stand with us to protect Otis and all our bears, our sustainable bear economy, and our bear coast in Cook Inlet! You can sign and share our petition (inletkeeper.org/ls258). You can write and submit your own comment (here!). We have some advice and tips on how to write them here (but bottom line – speak from your heart and your concerns!).