Fat Bear Week: Celebrating the Champions of Katmai National Park

Fat Bear Week is more than just a quirky online competition; it’s a celebration of resilience, adaptability, and the extraordinary lives of brown bears in Katmai National Park & Preserve, Alaska.

Each year, thousands of fans from around the world come together to vote for the mightiest bear, the one who has packed on the most pounds to survive a long winter hibernation.

Fat Bear Week is an annual celebration held in Katmai National Park & Preserve, Alaska.

Photo: Pixabay
Fat Bear Week is an annual celebration held in Katmai National Park & Preserve, Alaska.

The Origins of Fat Bear Week

Fat Bear Week was created in 2014 by former park ranger Mike Fitz, NPR reports. What started as a one-day event, “Fat Bear Tuesday,” quickly gained popularity on social media. Due to its immense success, it expanded into a week-long celebration, attracting thousands of enthusiasts eager to witness these magnificent creatures in their quest for survival.

The Fat Bear Week Voting Process

Fat Bear Week involves a week-long tournament, organized in a bracket like you might see for sports teams, only each team is a bear. The public casts their votes to determine who advances in each round. Votes highlight not only the bears’ physical prowess but also their unique stories of survival and adaptation.

More than one million votes were recorded in 2022, and more are expected this year.

Brown bears at Katmai can gain hundreds of pounds during Fat Bear Week.

Photo: Pixabay
Brown bears at Katmai can gain hundreds of pounds during Fat Bear Week.

Meet the Bear Contestants of fat Bear Week

Information on these Fat Bear Week contestants from the National Park Service.

32 Chunk: The Dominant Force

32 Chunk is a colossal adult male bear who’s not afraid to flaunt his distinctive features – from his narrowly-set eyes to that iconic scar across his muzzle. Chunk isn’t just your ordinary bear; he’s a living testament to the art of carrying “substantial” fat reserves, particularly in the plump posterior department.

128 Grazer: The Fearless Mother

Grazer, a towering adult female with an unmistakable long, straight muzzle and flashy blond ears, is not to be trifled with. She’s a force to be reckoned with, fiercely raising her cubs while staring down even the mightiest adult males. Grazer doesn’t just catch salmon; she catches our attention. Her adaptability and angling prowess make her one of the most successful bears in Brooks River. She’s got the looks and the guts!

151 Walker: The Big Fisherman

Once upon a time, Walker was the life of the party with his playful antics at Brooks Falls. But in 2023, he decided it was time to grow up and become a real heavyweight in the fishing game. Walker’s sheer size and assertive nature helped him snag prime fishing spots while gently (or not so gently) nudging other bears out of the way. Change is the name of the game for these wild creatures, and Walker’s transformation was nothing short of spectacular!

The competition involves online voting to determine the

Photo: Pixabay
The competition involves online voting to determine the “fattest” bear, celebrating their ability to thrive.

164: The Innovative Angler

Bear 164 is no ordinary bear; he’s an innovator! While most bears were duking it out for established fishing spots, 164 had a lightbulb moment. He boldly ventured to the very base of Brooks Falls, creating his unique niche in the salmon-catching world. His out-of-the-box approach makes him the black sheep of bear fishing, but as he matures, we can’t help but wonder: how will this trailblazer continue to evolve?

284: The Family Protector – Legacy Lives On!

Bear 284 carries a proud legacy at Brooks River. She’s not just about survival; she’s about family. With two known litters under her belt, 284 is more than just a mother; she’s a teacher, passing down the survival skills that have kept her lineage going for generations. It’s a family tradition of epic proportions!

402: The Maternal Expert

Meet Bear 402, the undisputed queen of motherhood. With at least eight litters to her name, she’s the go-to gal for all things parenting in the bear world. Her impeccable angling and scavenging skills ensure her cubs are always well-fed. Even in the face of heart-wrenching losses, she’s a maternal force to be reckoned with.

The winner of Fat Bear Week is crowned the

Photo: Pixabay
The winner of Fat Bear Week is crowned the “Fat Bear Week Champion.”

428: The Independent Explorer

In 2023, Bear 428 decided it was time to spread her wings—or paws—and explore the river without her mother’s guiding presence. She tackled new challenges head-on, seizing every opportunity that came her way. Her independence is a testament to the adaptability of these extraordinary creatures.

435 Holly: The Survivor

Holly’s life reads like a gripping novel, filled with hardship and jaw-dropping surprises. She’s not just a survivor; she’s a thriver. From raising injured cubs to adopting others, Holly’s adaptability as a single bear is awe-inspiring. No wonder she clinched the title of Fat Bear Week Champion in 2019!

480 Otis: The Patient Hunter

Otis, the medium-large adult male, is the embodiment of patience in the world of hunting. Instead of chasing salmon like a mad bear, he takes the Zen approach—waiting for his prey to come to him. It’s a strategy that’s earned him multiple Fat Bear titles, proving that sometimes, slow and steady really does win the race.

Brooks River, where many bears congregate, is a popular location for bear-watching during this event.

Photo: Pixabay
Brooks River, where many bears congregate, is a popular location for bear-watching during this event.

747: The Giant

Bear 747 is no ordinary bear; he’s a colossal giant of the wilderness. Towering over his peers, this large adult male faced formidable challenges from other bear heavyweights in 2023. His age and strategy were under the microscope, and he wasn’t content with just one Fat Bear Week crown; he’s been the champion twice, in 2020 and 2022!

901: The Caring Mother

In 2023, Bear 901 arrived at Brooks River with three adorable spring cubs, setting the stage for a captivating story of motherhood in the bear world. Her journey showcases the remarkable challenges and responsibilities of nurturing the next generation of wild bears.

806 Jr.: The Risk-Taker

Meet 806 Jr., the plucky first-year cub with a taste for adventure. He dared to dance with danger by fishing near Brooks Falls, braving swift currents and frigid waters. His daring escapades led to thrilling moments and formidable challenges as he embarked on his journey in the wild.

Fat Bear Week offers insight into the importance of salmon to the Alaskan ecosystem.

Photo: Pixabay
Fat Bear Week offers insight into the importance of salmon to the Alaskan ecosystem.

The Science of Fat Bears

The critical role of fat in a bear’s life cannot be overstated. According to Explore, adult male bears can weigh between 700 to 900 pounds in mid-summer, with some reaching up to 1,200 pounds by late summer and fall. These extra pounds are a survival strategy.

During hibernation, bears’ bodies slow down significantly. They don’t eat, drink, urinate, or defecate, PBS reports. Instead, their fat is metabolized to produce water and food, and their waste is recycled, helping them maintain muscle mass and bone density. Even with these adaptations, bears can lose up to one-third of their body weight during hibernation.

This voting process engages people worldwide in wildlife conservation.

Photo: Pixabay
This voting process engages people worldwide in wildlife conservation.

Journey to the Bear Kingdom

Visiting Katmai National Park & Preserve, the land of fat bears, requires dedication and resources. As reported in The Washington Post, travelers must embark on a journey that includes flights to Alaska, a floatplane or water taxi to the park (as driving is not an option), and accommodations that range from lodge rooms to competitive campground reservations.

Fat Bear Week is not just about entertainment; it also serves as a valuable research opportunity. Scientists study the bears’ behavior and body condition, collecting data on their size, weight, and overall health. This information helps researchers understand the bears’ ecological role and the impact of salmon availability on their population.

 Fat Bear Week fosters a greater appreciation for the critical role of bears in their ecosystem.

Photo: Pixabay
Fat Bear Week fosters a greater appreciation for the critical role of bears in their ecosystem.

As we root for our favorite contestants, we gain a deeper appreciation for these remarkable creatures and the critical role they play in the ecosystem. So, let’s cast our votes, embrace the grandeur of nature, and honor these majestic bears during this extraordinary event. Happy Fat Bear Week 2023!

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Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, spending time with his daughters, and coffee.
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