The bears at an Alaska national park are fattening up, and their fans will honor them for it.
Every fall, Katmai National Park and Preserve hosts its annual Fat Bear Week, an online tournament to honor the fattest of the fat bears.
More than 2,200 brown bears call the national park home, and it is “one of the premier brown bear viewing areas in the world,” the National Park Service said.
“As many bear populations around the world decline, Katmai provides some of the few remaining unaltered habitats for these amazing creatures,” the National Park Service said on its website. “At Katmai, scientists are able to study bears in their natural habitat, visitors are able to enjoy unparalleled viewing opportunities, and the bears are able to continue their life cycle largely undisturbed.”
With that many bears around, it’s easy to see how much bears change from spring to the end of summer. Fat Bear Week celebrates that change.
It’s a single-elimination tournament where people can vote on who is the fattest of a two-bear lineup, the park said Monday.
“For each pairing of bears, you will be given the opportunity to vote on our brand new #FatBearWeek website (coming soon),” Katmai National Park and Preserve said on Facebook. “Votes will be considered final at 6:00 pm AKDT on the day of the post. The bear with the most votes advances.”
The park will share photos of the bears from the beginning of spring to the end of summer, the Department of the Interior said.
“The differences are often huge. In just a few months, the bears have gorged on enough salmon to pack on some serious pounds,” the Department of the Interior said on its website. “While Fat Bear Week is both fun and has gained a lot of attention, it also brings up really important questions about survival and how we’re studying and learning more about these amazing bears.”
A fat bear is healthy. They fatten up as winter gets closer because they rely on their stored fat for energy, the Department of the Interior said. The fatter they are, the more likely they are to make it through winter.
Leading up to that, they eat nonstop in a process called hyperphagia and can gain up to 4 pounds each day.
“The majority of the weight is put on in the late summer once bears enter hyperphagia,” the Department of the Interior said. “Leptin, the chemical that tells the body it’s full, is suppressed which allows for the bears to eat until it’s time to sleep.”
In 2019, bear No. 435 named Holly won the title of fattest bear.
“It was very hard to get a good picture [of Holly] out of the water because she was a submarine for the entire month,” Katmai Conservancy Media Ranger Naomi Boak told NPR last year. “She did not stop fishing, except to dig a belly hole big enough for her to sleep in.”
In August, the park said Bear 747 weighed about 1,400 pounds last year and could go six months without eating because he is so large, McClatchy News reported. He is likely even bigger now. He was a previous Fat Bear Week winner.
“Right here he’s thinking he’s totally gonna win this year,” one commenter said. “I think he’s sick of feeling robbed.”
Fat Bear Week 2020 voting will start Sept. 30.