KATMAI NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE, Alaska -- Stars snarling at each other, mate-swapping, dominant males posturing and establishing their territory.
It’s not quite Jersey Shore, but these are among the highlights of the second season of an Internet reality show coming your way this week.
The stars are the brown bears of Katmai National Park and Preserve in remote Alaska. Eight web cams, an increase of five from last year, have been set up at various parts of the park to livestream the daily life and drama of the park’s famed bears at explore.org/bears. Social aspects also have been enhanced, with live web chats planned with rangers and scientists, and a new photo sharing feature.
“We know that Katmai is a cost-prohibitive place to visit so not a lot of people get the opportunity to come here,” park ranger Michael Fitz said.
“We still want people to have an understanding of what Katmai is like, and enjoy, especially enjoy the brown bears that are here, so explore.org is able to partner with Katmai to provide many different webcams along the Brooks River so you have a chance to watch the bears and have an opportunity to experience their lives,” Fitz said.
About 10,000 people a year visit the park about 250 miles west of Anchorage, which is only accessibly by float plane. Katmai is on the Alaska Peninsula, across the Shelikof Strait from Kodiak Island.
Among the new camera views this year will be another angle from Brooks Falls, where bears – as many as four abreast one day last week – stand in the water and try to catch salmon traveling upriver to spawn. The new camera is at eye-level of the bears, a perspective that neither rangers nor visitors see. Cameras also are situated at the riffles, a few hundred yards downstream from the falls, and at the lower river, where cameras will catch the bears fishing near the pedestrian bridge, oftentimes sharing the river with anglers.
There also are two cameras placed on top of each other on the bridge. One is underwater, trying to provide images of the salmon or the bear’s feet as they run by, or possibly a bear’s head as it goes into the water trying to catch a salmon. The second camera is positioned a little higher to catch the bear’s actions.
“This year is all about trying to bring some more interactivity to the web cams, trying to engage the visitors more, facilitate them taking snapshots and sharing with one another,” said Roy Wood, chief of interpretation at Katmai. The snapshots are essentially screen grabs of what people are seeing on their computers.
Both the positioning of the new cameras and the snapshot ideas came from Charles Annenberg, the creator of explore.org, which is underwritten by the Annenberg Foundation.
He wanted to recreate what people do every day when they are out enjoying nature.
“What is everyone doing but taking photos every second, and then you sit back at night and look at them,” he said. “Why not put a little camera icon up there so people can take photographs and send them and share them with people? I mean, it’s just so simple and I was just trying to duplicate the experience.”
There has been a dedicated community of faithful viewers at explore.org/bears, posting 20,000 comments last year, even alerting rangers to bear activity. They also witnessed some things very few ever see.