It’s once again the most joyful time of the year: Fat Bear Week. Twelve of the heftiest brown bears living at the Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska will duke it out to be crowned the king or queen of chonk. The contestants include last year’s winner, Otis, crowd favorite Holly, and a crop of youngsters. You can vote for your favorite bears starting on Wednesday, October 5.
The Fat Bear contest officially began in 2014, though it was initially just a day, not a whole week. It’s meant to commemorate the arduous journey that Alaskan brown bears must undertake to last through the winter. During these harsh times, the hibernating bears can lose a third of their body weight. So the pounds they pack on during the summer are vital to their continued survival.
Luckily for them, Katmai National Park is one of the most plentiful areas of the world for a brown bear to live in, filled with treats like sockeye salmon. As a result, Katmai’s bears are thought to be some of the biggest in the world by the end of the summer. And the park’s many unobtrusive cameras have allowed the public to watch and celebrate these fattest of bears.
This year’s bracket is stocked with tough competition.
There’s bear 480, aka Otis, who won last year. Otis is a veteran champ, having won four times—the most to date. Though he’s now getting up in years, his patience in catching fish has allowed him to stay hefty for over two decades.
Bear 435, Holly, is perhaps the most popular bear of the contest, thanks in part to her heartwarming background. Holly has raised multiple litters of cubs throughout the years, and even once fostered an abandoned bear (503, who has since become a thriving adult). Despite the challenges of motherhood, Holly won the contest in 2019. And though she’s one of the oldest bears in the park, she’s not raising a cub currently, meaning that she’s had more opportunity to get nice and plump this summer.
Bear 747 coincidentally shares his call sign with the Boeing 747—aka the jumbo jet—and he certainly lives up to the association. Year after year, 747 has been one of the largest males in the park, allowing him to get some of the best fishing spots in the area. This summer, though, he’s been challenged at times by bear 856, who has also reigned supreme in the past. 747 and 856 are facing off in one of the contest’s initial match-ups, so this rivalry will soon have a new chapter.
There are also plenty of younger bears eager to take the crown in 2022. Bear 335 is one of Holly’s daughters, and she’s made it back to the park’s Brooks River for the first time as an independent bear this summer. Bear 901 is in the prime of her life, and it’s possible that she successfully mated earlier in the year. Brown bears that hibernate delay the implantation of their fertilized eggs until the start of hibernation, and their bodies only go through with the pregnancy if the bear has accumulated enough fat. So 901’s feasting this summer may decide whether she will emerge from her den as a new mother in the spring.
The underdog this year might be 909’s yearling, a term used to describe cubs between one and two years old. The winner of this year’s Fat Bear Junior contest (held last week), 909’s yearling started off the summer feeding off her mother’s catches. But by the end of the summer, she was catching some of her own, a feat that most cubs her age rarely accomplish.
The official start of Fat Bear Week 2022 is Wednesday, October 5. Bears will be matched against one another in a single elimination bracket, until the finale on October 11. Voting will be open from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. ET. Further details are available through Explore.org.
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