Fat Bear Week 2021

Photo Courtesy: Explore.org

'Fat' is never an insult to a bear. This is especially true during the fall season, as they begin to pack on the pounds in preparation for a long winter hibernation. 

For the ninth year in a row, crews from Katmai National Park in Anchorage, Alaska will be celebrating the robust transformation of its brown bear population with the 2022 Fat Bear Week competition.

Fat Bear Week is bracket-style, single elimination tournament where participants can vote online for the park's fattest bears. The bears with the most votes advance to the next round until one is crowned the winner.

"Fat Bear Week is to the natural world what March Madness is to college basketball,” says explore.org founder Charlie Annenberg Weingarten in a news release.

Fat Bear Bracket

Photo credit: Explore.org

Sheer size may not be the only factor that voters take into account. 

"You may want to consider the tremendous growth spurts experienced by younger bears. Subadult (teenage) bears and cubs, for example, grow proportionally more each year than even the biggest adults. Perhaps you want to weigh your vote toward bears with extenuating circumstances such as a mother’s cost of raising cubs or the additional challenges that older bears face as they age," the release said.  

Cub before and after

Photo credit: Explore.org

Last year's champion was a 25-year-old brown bear named Otis. The massive, sandy-colored beast clutched the win with 51,230 votes in the final round. 

At Katmai National Park, bears have plentiful access to sockeye salmon in the late spring and summer months. Their diet also consists of grasses and berries. According to the news release, a record number of salmon returned to the area this summer, which could make this year's competition the "fattest" yet.

Male brown bears can weigh up to 1,500 pounds. By comparison, Colorado's largest black bears only grow to be about 600 pounds (though most are much smaller).

"Katmai’s brown bears are at their fattest in late summer and early fall. It is the end-product of their summer-long effort to satisfy their profound hunger and prepare for winter hibernation. During hibernation, bears do not eat or drink and can lose one-third of their body weight. Their winter survival depends on accumulating ample fat reserves before entering the den," the release said. 

This year, Fat Bear Week will take place from October 5 to October 11. Crews from Katmai Conservancyexplore.org, and rangers at Katmai National Park will be announcing competitors on Monday at 5 PM. 

Voting will be open each day from 11 AM to 9 PM, and can be found here

By this time of year, many of Colorado's black bears are preparing for winter, as well, and are taking in a an estimated 20,000 calories a day. During this phase, called hyperphagia, bears are more active and are spotted by humans more frequently. 

Unlike the bears at Katmai National Park, a black bear's diet typically consists of berries, fruits, nuts, seeds, insects, larvae, grass, and other plants. They will also hunt deer, or feed on the carcasses of dead animals.

Bears will never pass up an easy meal, so it is especially important to always secure potential bear attractants, like garbage. 

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