Officials: Skull Found in Alaska Belongs to Hunter Who Likely Died in 1970s Bear Mauling

grizzly bear
Getty Images/Grant Faint

A skull found in Alaska in 1997 along the Porcupine River belongs to a man who went there to hunt in the 1970s.

The New York native likely died as the result of a bear mauling, and investigators employed genetic genealogy to identify the remains, the Associated Press (AP) reported Friday.

“Genetic genealogy creates family history profiles (biological relationships between or among individuals) by using DNA test results in combination with traditional genealogical methods,” the Library of Congress website explained.

Gary Frank Sotherden (Stephen Sotherden)

Gary Frank Sotherden (Stephen Sotherden)

On Thursday, Alaska State Troopers announced the man’s name was Gary Frank Sotherden.

The Alaska Department of Public Safety detailed the case in its press release:

On July 23, 1997, Alaska State Troopers in Fairbanks received a report from a hunter that they had found a human skull along the Porcupine River around 8 miles from the Canadian border. Troopers responded to the area but could not locate the rest of the remains. The skull was collected and sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office as unidentified human remains.

Porcupine River (FWS)

Officials took DNA from the remains in April, and “Cold case investigators used genetic genealogy to tentatively identify the remains” as those of Sotherden, who would have been 71 years old if he had lived until the present.

Officials contacted a relative who gave them a DNA sample, and the person said the man was dropped off in the area where his remains were found at some point in the early to mid-1970s for a hunting trip.

“The living relative was notified of the DNA match on December 27, 2022, and the family was placed in contact with the SMEO to arrange for the return of Gary’s remains,” the news release said.

When it comes to bear attacks, the National Park Service tells visitors every encounter with the animals is different.

“Bears exhibit different kinds of behaviors during different situations, and understanding the bear’s behavior can make the difference between life and death,” the service’s website read.


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