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Live cam watchers hoping to see ‘fat bears’ save a hiker’s life

Live cam watchers hoping to see ‘fat bears’ save a hiker’s life
Posted at 6:30 AM, Sep 15, 2023

Wildlife cameras have given us a priceless view into the natural world, but last week, one of these devices might have saved a man’s life.

Nature-lovers were tuned into a live stream of Dumpling Mountain in Alaska’s Katmai National Park. They weren’t just after views of the alpine tundra, but also of the brown bears of Katmai National Park and Preserve. The Katmai brown bears are abundant in this area thanks to the salmon-rich streams of Brooks Falls.

These bears are known as “fat bears” because they are among the largest on Earth, at 700-900 pounds, and they get even bigger in the late summer and fall as they gorge on fish. This is part of their preparation to enter torpor during the winter.

But, last Tuesday, an unexpected sight appeared on one of the cameras posted around the park. It was a disheveled hiker who was mouthing the words, “Help me.”

The National Park Service camera feed on Dumpling Mountain, which is posted on Explore.Org, thankfully had plenty of viewers, especially considering the current chilly and rainy weather in southern Alaska. There is no cell service on the mountain, so a stranded hiker could be in serious trouble if lost or injured.

Viewers started to comment under the video about the situation, alerting the site moderators that there was a man in distress on the mountain. Park rangers were dispatched to the location where the hiker was seen — near a camera two miles away from the nearest trail, about 2.5 miles from the summit of the mountain.

Here, Explore.org shows a bit of the video in question, as well as the ensuing search.

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Three hours later, the man was rescued.

The situation could have had a tragic ending, especially due to the rain and fog, which caused poor visibility and could easily lead a hiker to become disoriented.

“You really have no sense of direction,” said Explore.org’s Mike Fitz, a former Katmai park ranger, told NPR. “The landmarks you saw on the way up disappear when the clouds come down.”

Due to the poor visibility, the hiker’s ability to locate a web camera was shocking in and of itself. However, the camera might have saved his life … the camera, and of course, the everyday heroism of “fat bear” fans.

If you are looking for a sighting of one of these coastal brown bears, now is one of the best times to tune into the live stream. The season is so iconic that Katmai National Park and Preserve even has a Fat Bear Week at the end of September or early October, in which viewers can vote for their favorite fat bear.

National Park Service

You can watch the live stream of Katmai’s cameras yourself here on Explore.org.

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