Does a 12-Foot Grizzly Bear Exist?

Grizzly bear in wilderness, Anchorage, Alaska
Sierralara/Getty Images

Viral images circulating since November 2001 seem to show a giant, 1,600-pound, man-eating grizzly bear that was killed in Alaska by a hunter. The story is false — it was debunked in 2016 — but read on to learn how the rumor got started, what folks have been saying about it in cyberspace, and the facts of the alleged mammoth man-eating bear.

Sample Email

The following sample email, which appeared on Jan. 24, 2003, is fairly representative:

Subject: This is why you don't mess with Grizzly bears
WARNING: This is not a joke and is pretty gross. If you are faint of heart or stomach don't look at grizz.jpg
This is why you don't mess with Grizzly bears! Warning: the Grizzly picture is pretty gross; it's what's left of one of his victims!
The following pictures are of a guy who works for the forest Service In Alaska. He was out deer hunting. A large world record Griz charged him from about 50 yards away.
The guy unloaded a 7mm Mag Semi-auto into the bear and it dropped a few feet from him. The thing was still alive so he reloaded and capped it in The head. It was over one thousand six hundred pounds, 12'6" high at the shoulder. It's a world record. The bear had killed a couple of other people. Of course, the game department did not let him keep it. Think about it: This thing on its hind legs could walk up to the average single story house and look on the roof at eye level.

No Man-Eater, Says Forest Service

Was the bear a man-eater, as claimed in the email? The Forest Service says there is no evidence of that. When asked by the "Anchorage Daily News" to comment on the horrific final image of what appears to be a partially eaten human victim, Forest Service spokesman Ray Massey admitted he hadn't even looked at it. "I didn't want to see a photo of the body," he said, adding, "I know it's bogus."

Rumor Debunked

The "Alaska Dispatch News" (hopefully) debunked the rumor once and for all in a Sept. 27, 2016, article:

The man-eating monster Alaska bear that refuses to die in cyberspace was shot in fall 2001 on Prince William Sound's Hinchinbrook Island by a then-22-year-old airman from Eielson Air Force Base named Ted Winnen.
It was a big bear, a grizzly -- or "brown bear" as the coastal version of the species is often called -- whose hide measured 10 feet, 6 inches from head to toe. Its weight at the time was estimated at 1,000-1,200 pounds.
That's hefty, but coastal brown bears have been known to get bigger. The largest ever topped 2,000 pounds and lived out its life at the Dakota Zoo in Bismark, N.D.

The paper explained that the bear Winnen killed appeared to loom so large because of "some photographs with a distorted perspective" that gave rise to the rumor of the mammoth animal that took on a life of its own on the internet — long after the bear was dead. The best lesson here is to always cast a critical eye on internet emails and social media postings, and avoid being taken in by "big bear" stories.