To Name or Not to Name?

May 07, 2015 Posted by: Michael Fitz


Bear walking in water

#130 was nicknamed Tundra when she was a yearling cub. What meanings are associated with that name? Does her nickname change the way you perceive her? Is it appropriate to name wild animals?

Bears at Brooks River are assigned numbers for monitoring, management, and identification purposes. Inevitably, some bears acquire nicknames from staff and these nicknames are shared with the public, but naming wild animals is not without controversy. Is it appropriate to name wild animals?

Personnel at many bear watching areas in Alaska, like Brooks River, attach nicknames to frequently seen bears. Names undoubtedly alter the way in which we relate to an animal. For some people, a named bear (or one with ear tags or a radio collar) may seem less wild, and more pet-like, than an unknown counterpart. Names also carry meaning, intentionally or not. 

What stigmas would you attach to a young bear nicknamed Fluffy versus a large male bear named Killer? How would those stigmas alter your experience when watching that animal?

With those questions in mind, the randomly assigned numbers attached to individual bears are certainly more neutral. Yet, for some people numbers are more difficult to remember than nicknames, and over time a bear’s number may become just as anthropomorphizing as a nickname. Rangers and biologists would have difficulty referring to #747 by anything other than his number. #747 has become his “name.” No matter how we relate to these animals though, at Brooks River the bears with nicknames remain wild animals. Management decisions are never based on whether or not a bear is named and the bears are completely unaware of the numbers and names assigned to them.

This essay can be found in the 2015 edition of Bears of Brooks River, which will be available to download free-of-charge from Katmai’s ebooks page. In the meantime, you can still download and read the 2014 edition. 

bear, bears, Brown Bear, bear management, bearcam, wildlife

15 Comments Comments icon

  1. XRumerTest
    July 07, 2017 at 02:11

    Hello. And Bye.

  2. June 24, 2016 at 11:05

    Can you officially name #273 cub....VELCRO......WE ALL LOVE THAT NAME, AND THE STORY BEHIND IT..TY

  3. November 27, 2015 at 01:56

    Thanks very much Mike. An electric fence hasn't proven necessary this season but I will keep it in mind. Also, I sent an email reply to Landis Ehler on another subject and got an error responce as if the inbox doesn't exist. I am guessing that based on the seasonality of parts of the park the inbox might not be active right now, I will send it again another time. Happy Holidays NPS!!!

  4. November 27, 2015 at 01:52

    Thanks very much Mike, this season it hasn't proven necessary but I will keep it in mind! Also, I tried sending an email responce to Landis Ehler about another subject and got an error responce like the mail box doesn't exist; I am guessing with the seasonality of parts of the park the email might not be active right now, I will try sending it again another time. Happy Holiday NPS!!!

  5. October 18, 2015 at 05:18

    At the museum where I volunteer, many of the animals have names, but we're not allowed to disclose those to the public for the very reasons cited in this blog. We also talk to the animals when we feed them or handle them "back stage," but we're definitely not allowed to do that when visitors are around. We want people to appreciate the animals, but we don't want them to start thinking of them as pets.

  6. October 01, 2015 at 01:00

    @Emily B: Thanks for your compliment. Regarding your question, an electric fence might be a good option. Any electric fence designed for livestock can deter bears. Electric fences are not bear proof, just bear resistant, so they don’t deter bears in 100% of the time. However, well maintained fences are reliable under most circumstances. They are utilized by many backcountry campers in Katmai and many people, including gardeners, in the surrounding communities.

  7. September 25, 2015 at 10:10

    September 25, 2015 I had the opportunity yesterday to see most of the live chat broadcast. Happy Birthday Katmai National Park!!! As it happens just a few days ago I discovered the live stream and it quickly became the only channel I watch. Within seconds of starting the live stream I could see what appeared to be a bear or marsh grass with a slight breeze, it was a Mama and her cub. Within moments of my first viewing of the live stream, as I was explaining what I was seeing, I was naming bears: Mama Kodiak and Baby Kodiak, Mr. Big Brown Bears (there were two, one of them might be known as Otis). Naming animals (even wild animals) is nothing new to me I have been doing that for years; when I am out and about squirrels all go by the name whirly or squirrly whirly. I doubt it would ever have occurred to me to walk through the woods referring to each squirrel I see with a number. Though I have an understanding of why numbering as opposed to naming might be more appropriate in some situations; in my opinion, the least acceptable reason would be to allow for or create some sort of emotional separation. In addition: a question, a suggestion, and a complement! I have installed a garden this year and have heard rumor of Black Bears in the area. I meandered through the wooded area beyond my garden a couple of times earlier this season (it is not a very large area, perhaps about 3000 sq. ft. and is bordered by a steep drop off and roads used daily) and only found evidence of very limited wild food sources, Birds, Squirrels, Chipmunks, Groundhogs, and a few very obvious signs of Deer(including skat). Down the road a little way there are larger tracts of land where I have seen Deer and Turkey eating and wandering, but never any signs of larger creatures (without having left the roadway). Any suggestions or recommendations for garden Bear deterrents, in case they prove necessary? In the live streaming broadcast earlier today I noticed mention of issues with keeping batteries charged throughout the winter. As to the issues of winter time cold and the affect on batteries I have no suggestions. However, for a short time I had researched alternate energy sources for household energy and discovered a few possibilities for generation of energy as a back-up to solar power. The most productive, viable option appeared to be (though I had not tested it) a generator (similar to a car alternator) of sorts that attaches to part of a bicycle; for use indoors as a battery charger. Another option for lower wattage involved modifying a handheld drill to the point of reversing the flow of energy and using ither another drill or even a long handled kitchen utensil as a resource for producing the motion required for the production of wattage. This option can be time consuming, but it does work. Each of these options were widely available in various formats with parts and fully functioning units from various vendors on the internet. Katmai National Park appears to be a wonderfully amazing place, in the short time I have been viewing it on a screen I have been able to see breathtaking and inspiring views that do not compare to run of the mill nature documentaries. The writings in the blog, "Journeying Through the Summer Isles October 03, 2014 Posted by: Landis Ehler" and "Little Monsters? April 07, 2014 Posted by: Michael Fitz" are some of the most eloquent descriptions of the real world I have read since I put H.D. Thoreau back on the shelf, and I am a writer, so kudos! Hoping and planning to visit Katmai National Park around this time in the next year or two! Thanks very much for all you do as Rangers!

  8. June 28, 2015 at 07:10

    the benefit of having a guide is to learn the story of the animals you encounter. This way your experience of the animal in its natural environment is enhanced and you care more about them. Naming is a useful Africa I have found the animals named for the location where they are found or as a way of delineating family lines. For example, Eden's progeny all have names beginning with "e". The discussions on these posts and by the Rangers, and the naming adds to our wonder and caring for these bears. Thank you and Keep up the good work.

  9. May 14, 2015 at 10:11

    I've made a point of referring to them by number and name, and all my notes and pictures include both. I'm not sure how much of a difference it's made for me. I can't help but feel attached to them given how many hours I've devoted to watching their activities, shenanigans and studying their behaviors. Name, number or unknown identity, I still would not want to be confronted by a bear, though confrontation from someone(bear) you're familiar with would be more disappointing, I suppose. Besides that, who wouldn't want to be called Nostril Bear? ;-) Can't wait for the new edition of the Bears of Brooks River. Thank you!

  10. May 09, 2015 at 10:51

    I prefer names to numbers, especially since the names given to the Katmai bears seem quite appropriate. #747 is so large his number does make it appear he was named for the aircraft. Once I saw the bears in person I did start thinking differently about them. Watching them on the cams in no way prepares you for the reaction you have while standing on the platform at Brooks or watching them fish at the more remote creeks.

  11. May 09, 2015 at 04:37

    I always preferred the numbers to the name, mostly for the reasons stated here: that certain names then make you think of that bear in only a certain way, and that people seem to view them as less than wild animals. I think it is worth the little extra effort to learn the numbers! Good discussion!

  12. May 08, 2015 at 12:52

    I like the names better.. it is easier for me to remember their names than their #'s. I know they have to be assigned a # for research and I am ok with that.. Otis is easier to remember than his # is.. :-) Thank you to the Rangers of Katmai for the possibility to learn so much about the park and the wildlife in the park. The rangers are a plus to the bears !

  13. May 08, 2015 at 11:39

    Their all wild animals,I like #'s and Names.To me,the one's we watch on the Brooks River,the names and #'s are fitting.Patches :0)

  14. May 08, 2015 at 10:49

    Name them. My husband laughs when I talk about Otis.

  15. Jim
    May 08, 2015 at 10:33

    Go ahead and name them. The bears won't care. The people don't associate well with numbers. Numbers sound like being in jail,

Leave this field empty
Required information

Post A Comment

Last updated: May 7, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 7
1000 Silver Street, Building 603

King Salmon, AK 99613


(907) 246-3305

Contact Us