So many reasons to love fall — crisp air, colorful leaves, sweater weather and of course, Fat Bear Week! Each fall, the competition showcases chunky brown bears that are packing on pounds to prepare for winter hibernation.
Brooks River in Katmai National Park, Alaska houses a large population of these hefty bears where the competition takes place. Votes are cast online for the fattest bear in a March Madness-style bracket and the audience helps choose the ultimate victor.
Fat Bear Week remains a fun fall tradition to spread awareness of the brown bears' experiences as they fight for food and survival before Alaska's harsh cold season arrives. It also raises money for bear conservation.
What Is Fat Bear Week?
Typically, Fat Bear Week is a single-elimination online tournament in which 12 Alaskan brown bears in Brooks River are chosen to compete. Because numerous brown bears are present in the park, narrowing it down to just 12 contestants can be tough.
According to Fitz, the fat week bears are typically chosen by the park rangers based on a variety of factors such as their time of arrival at Brooks River. An early summer arrival at the river ensures that the bear is photographed before and after their weight gain. A compelling storyline is also a driving factor when choosing a contestant. The audience loves to see a veteran bear with skill and resilience competing year after year.
After the bears are picked, the audience keeps voting for their favorite until one bear is left standing. The competition is subjective, says Fitz, and the audience is encouraged to consider many factors when picking a winner, such as how much weight the bear has gained over the last few months and their salmon catch rate. Other factors include sympathizing with the health challenges of older bears or the difficulty of mother bears gaining weight as they cope with the added challenge of fending for their young.
Who Won Fat Bear Week 2022?
Over 1 million people voted collectively during Fat Bear Week 2022 and chose 747 as their champion. 747 has floppy ears and reddish-brown fur, and has also remained a fan favorite these last few years. In the 2022 championship, According to the National Park Service and Explore.org, 747 may have a tough competition ahead of him. 32 Chunk, a younger male, may be gunning for 747's top spot.
Despite his older age, 480 Otis won the crowd's hearts time and time again. Rangers first spotted 480 Otis as a cub in Brooks River in 2001. According to the bear's bio, Otis competed with younger members while also facing numerous challenges. For example, he was missing his two canine teeth, a significant disadvantage, as a bear's teeth are crucial for slicing through food.
Find out how to vote for Fat Bear Week here and enjoy a live stream of the bears at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park.
Who Will Be the Fat Bear Week Winner?
Of the 12 contestants battling it out for the 2023 Fat Bear Week Championship, notable favorites 480 Otis and 747 have returned. Last year, 747 unseated 480 Otis, the reigning champ. 480 Otis has won four championships since 2014 (the inaugural year), while 747 has won only two.
Both bears are male and well over 20 years old. Typically, adult male brown bears can weigh up to 1,200 pounds or 544 kilograms.
While both champions, the competition may be steep this fall as younger bears make their way onto the scene.
Read More: What You Should Do If You Encounter A Bear
Why Do We Celebrate Fat Bear Week?
For the brown bears in Katmai National Park, which is home to more bears than people, sustenance often includes salmon. Mike Fitz, a former ranger at Katmai and the creator of Fat Bear Week, explains that many of the Fat Bear Week contestants feed on the available salmon at Brooks River between June and October. "Fat Bear Week is an opportunity to think more about a healthy and productive ecosystem that supports the brown bears," says Fitz.
Fun as the contest is for humans, for the ursine participants of Fat Bear Week, gaining weight is crucial for survival. In order to prepare for hibernation, these omnivorous giants attempt to increase their body mass by eating and drinking nonstop.
During the harsh Alaskan winter, which can last five to eight months, the temperatures are frigid and food is scarce. The bears, of course, lie low in their dens and rely on their own body fat for survival. Gaining weight can also help bears secure mating opportunities and allow the females to support the birth and growth of cubs.
When it comes to their diet, these hefty animals will literally eat just about anything and everything that they can scarf down in the fall months. In order to fatten up, brown bears can eat up to 90 pounds of food each day! Though their primary nourishment comes from nuts, berries, fruits and leaves, bears will also dine on other animals including mammals, reptiles and fish.
2023 Fat Bear Contestants
1. 32 Chunk
2. 128 Grazer
3. 151 Walker
4. 164 Bucky Dent
7. 435 Holly
8. 480 Otis
11. 284 Electra
12. 806 Jr.
This article was originally published October 8, 2021. It has been updated with current information.
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