Move over shark week, there’s a new animal ready to capture everyone’s attention — it’s Fat Bear Week in America.
While sharks’ week-long spotlight usually consists of hearing how deadly they are, Fat Bear Week takes the deadly nature of these fascinating beasts out of the picture and shows how hefty these majestic creatures can get.
Put on by the Katmai National Park & Preserve in southwest Alaska, the national park is home to an estimated 2,200 brown bears. The celebration started off as a singular day in 2014, but it wasn’t long until it captivated the rest of the country.
“Everyone was just amazed by it,” Sara Wolman, project and media manager for Katmai Conservancy, told USA TODAY. “In a world where we’re constantly experiencing things like climate change, that really hit a note with people.”
Cute and cuddly, but also deadly:Brown bears are the deadliest wild animal in North America
Cheryl Spencer, a ranger at the park, said over 650,000 people voted last year, and they are expecting a lot more this time around.
While the contest can be viewed as fat-shaming these bears, it’s actually a necessity for them to get this large. With winter around the corner, hibernation means these bears won’t be eating for a while.
“Getting fat is what they’re aiming for all summer,” Wolman said. Spencer added bears lose about a third of their body weight in hibernation, meaning putting on the weight is critical to their survival.
While the celebration is all in fun, it actually raises awareness for how bears are dealing with climate change. The reason these bears can gain all the weight is because of the abundance of salmon present in the area. If the salmon were to disappear, the bears would be in great danger.
“Things that could affect the salmon run would directly have massive effects on not only bears, but the lives of other wildlife out here,” Spencer said. “They’re sort of the heartbeat here.”
Meet some of the bears competing
A total of 12 bears will compete for the title of 2021 Fat Bear Week champion. Voting is open until a champion is determined on Oct. 5, also known as Fat Bear Tuesday. Voting can be done here, and you and your friends can download a bracket to fill out, March Madness-style.
This year’s contenders are some of the chonkiest the annual celebration has seen with five of the seven past winners once again competing this year. Here are some of the bears vying for this year’s title.
Fat Bear Week reigning champion, the adult male was first identified in 2004 and has lived up to his jet airplane name. He also has apparently asserted himself as the most dominant bear on the Brooks River with his size alone, allowing him to choose any feeding spot he wants.
“747 is just an absolute tank,” Parker said. “Last year, we estimated him to be about 1,400 pounds at the end of fall… I think he’s fatter this year too.”
Known as the bear that went viral on Twitter, Holly was first identified in 2001 and is one of the “more experienced and tolerant mother bears” in the competition. She also was the 2019 winner.
“She’s like a gorgeous fat round bear,” Wolman said.
Wolman said 128 Grazer’s opening round matchup with 435 Holly is “really hard” to pick. Grazer first appeared in 2005 as a young cub and this year introduced her two cubs to the river. She is considered the most defensive mother among the bears.
“I’ve seen her in person just like stand up to a massive bear,” Wolman said. “She’s just like the epitome of girl power.”
The most decorated bear in the tournament, Otis is a three-time champion. He’s one of the oldest bears as he was already around 4-years-old when he was first spotted in 2001. Being an older bear, he is strategic in getting food and avoids fighting for spots against younger, stronger bears. He also seems poised to win his fourth title.
“He’s known for sitting in his ‘office’ on the far side of the fall. He just chills there and waits for the fish to come to him,” Wolman said. “He really did put on the pounds this year.”
One of the younger bears in the competition, Walker has grown into quite the competitive bear and now asserts his dominance over others. He is estimated to weigh more than the 1,000 pounds he weighed last year. He’s also one of Spencer’s favorites to win.
“He’s been on the bracket a couple times before, but he’s never won. However, he’s like the fattest he’s ever been this year,” she said.
Arguably one of the best names in the competition, Chunk’s personality is also worth noting. He will challenge bears for food and feeding locations, but will also play with other bears, which isn’t common for dominant bears. Last year, he weighed an estimated 1,200 pounds.
To see the rest of the contenders and learn more about each one, you can “meet the bears” here.