The beginning of fall brings pumpkin spice, sweater weather and…Fat Bear Week? Each year since 2014, Fat Bear Week has drawn fans across the internet towards an intense week-long competition between the finest fattest bears of Katmai National Park. During the week, the public votes on their favorite chonky contenders in daily head-to-head matchups, all culminating on Fat Bear Tuesday where the titan of tonnage is crowned.
So why celebrate fat bears? Essentially, fat equals healthy. In order to make it through winter, bears start prepping in the summer months by eating up to 90 pounds a day of salmon, berries, vegetation, and small mammals, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Come winter, brown bears hibernate for six months, during which their body temperature, pulse rate, and breathing significantly decrease, resulting in a dormant slumber. In order to sustain themselves, the bears use over a third of their body weight as an energy source.
Originally a small daylong event, Fat Bear Week has grown immensely over the past seven years and has brought major attention to both the bears and the conservation work supporting them.
Ask anyone who’s been to Katmai National Park, and pretty much the first thing that will come to mind is bears. Located in southwestern Alaska, the park is considered the brown bear viewing capital of the world, with an estimated 2,200 residents. What makes this place so special is the healthy ecosystem within it. When you have large numbers of fat bears, that means there’s a large number of salmon. Lots of salmon can demonstrate the health of the river, and so on. The bears thus serve as an important indicator and symbol of success of their environment.
This year’s contenders are an assortment of former champions, newbies, and males and females alike. What’s additionally intriguing about the competition are the personal bios compiled for each bear, telling their stats and habits, but also their life struggles and triumphs. In doing so, they provide an emotional stake for fans but also a deeper connection to the highs and lows of what it’s like to be a brown bear in the wild. Take 435 Holly, a seasoned mama bear and 2019 champion who has successfully cared for an injured cub (now known as 89 Backpack) as well as adopting and raising an orphaned cub along with her biological one. Talk about a supermom!
My personal favorite is 132’s Spring Cub who is literally nine months old and in contention with the big guys. Their massive transformation has earned them the title of “cub-of-the-year,” and they are also just extremely floofy.
So will it be Otis, the 3-time and inaugural Fat Bear champion? Chunk, who seems to have a bodacious rear all year round? Or perhaps Spring Cub will upset them all. Tune in to @katmainpp on October 5 to see who is crowned king (or queen) of them all.