Katmai National Park Rangers Spot ‘Incredible’ Behavior During Fat Bear Week

by Lauren Boisvert
(Image Credit: Joerg Clephas/Getty Images)

You know the saying “friends are sisters a higher power forgot to give you”? Well, these two bears are living proof of that phrase. In Katmai National Park, rangers recently spotted some odd bear behavior that goes against a bear’s usually solitary nature.

For context, it’s Fat Bear Week, which is the bracket-style contest to find the fattest bear in Katmai National Park as hibernation approaches. Now, bears are usually solitary creatures. They’re wary of potential threats, especially to their cubs. They don’t hang out with other bears, and they don’t travel in groups outside of a mother-cub dynamic. But, this year, bears 909 and 910, together with their respective cubs, actually broke all the rules of usual bear behavior.

Rangers, naturalists, and casual viewers in Katmai witnessed the two mother bears and their cubs traveling, eating, fishing, and napping together all over the park.

“This was really fascinating to watch this year,” Mike Fitz, a former Katmai park ranger and current naturalist for Explore.org–which supplies the ever-popular bear cam–told Mashable. “Mother and cubs often keep to themselves. I’ve never seen two families associate with each other like these have.”

These two bears are actually half-sisters, the offspring of former Fat Bear champion bear 409. So, their cubs are essentially cousins. 909’s cub is finishing up its second fish season, which means it’s about 2 years old. 910’s cub was just born this spring.

This found family was first spotted at the waterfall at Brooks River catching salmon. The big mamas caught most of the fish while the cubs stayed on the banks. But, in another unusual feat, 909’s cub managed to catch a few salmon of its own, which most yearlings don’t manage at that age.

Bear Cubs Can Have Two Moms, Too: Katmai National Park Bears Form Close Bond During Fat Bear Week

This intermingling of families didn’t stop at the fishing hole, though. The bears started traveling together, eventually heading to a patch of grass and settling in for a much-deserved nap.

“They hung out together. Relaxed together. Played together. It’s pretty incredible,” said Naomi Boak, the former media ranger at Katmai National Park and Preserve. “To me, it was the story of the year.”

The fact that they chose that area of grass makes it clear that they’re close to one another. According to Mashable, that area of the park is far from the waterfall. They had to deliberately choose each other’s company. “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that they’re friends with one another,” said Fitz. “This is an example of how bears can be quite social animals when the circumstances are correct.”

With winter coming soon, it’s possible that these bears felt comfortable and safe with one another while preparing for hibernation. Will they hibernate with each other too? We’ll have to wait and see. But, as of Oct. 7, Fitz reported that “They’re still hanging out together.”