The National Park Service’s Fat Bear Week began Wednesday, Oct. 4, and will run until the following Tuesday, Oct. 10. Fat Bear Week is an annual event in which the public is invited to vote on which bear they think best “exemplifies fatness,” per explore.org, as they pack on pounds in preparation for winter.
On Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014, Katmai National Park ranger Mike Fitz asked visitors to review photos of a number of the park’s bears before and after they filled out their bodily reserves for the colder months. This event was called Fat Bear Tuesday. Bear #480, also known as “Otis,” won the vote and claimed his first of four Fattest Bear titles to date.
Just as these bears grow to impressive sizes, so too has Fat Bear Week grown over time. After the success of Fat Bear Tuesday, Fitz and Katmai National Park decided to scale the event up to a whole week, which has been taking place in early October every year since 2015. The event culminates on Fat Bear Tuesday, where Fitz, who has now retired from the NPS and serves on the board of directors for the Katmai Conservancy, hosts a live stream that explores the lives of the two finalist bears and hosts the final vote.
Last year’s heavyweight champion was Bear #747, Bear Force One, whose heaviest estimated weight was 1,400 pounds. 747’s massive size allows him to force other, less impressive bears out of prime fishing holes. However, possibly due to his age, 747 has yielded these spots to similarly-sized rival males, such as Bear #856 and Bear #32, who posed as fierce competition. In spite of these gargantuan challengers, 747 managed to win the public’s hearts and tip the scales in his favor, paving the way to his second championship title.
As entertaining as fat bears are, their intense bulking serves an important survival purpose. Bears in Katmai hibernate in dens through the winter. During this time, they don’t eat or drink, so all the resources they need to survive have to be stored in their bodies’ fat reserves. This is especially important for pregnant bears, as hungry cubs are born in these dens in the middle of winter.
Public engagement is at the center of Fat Bear Week. Without support and excitement from bear-loving constituents, the event and the awareness it raises about bear hibernation would not exist. Those who want a say in who will claim this year’s Fat Bear Champion title can cast their vote on explore.org.
Author: Jacob Horne
Photos courtesy of Katmai National Park
Editor: Lily Brunson