Fat Bear Week

Have you ever heard about Fat Bear Week? It’s an annual voting competition hosted by Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserves to celebrate their success in getting prepared for hibernation, but also to crown the biggest, fattest bear. Although Fat Bear Week is already over, here’s who you missed out on voting for in the 2022 Fat Bear Week.

335 is a subadult bear, and is one of the youngest bears on this list, considering she is the daughter of 435 Holly on this list. This was her first season as an independent bear, and 335 did not take it well; she followed her mother around, and although 435 Holly tried to keep away, she eventually gave up and left 335 fish near her. Although 335 didn’t find a fishing spot of her own, she was perfectly fine eating spawned and partially-eaten salmon downstream, getting enough food to survive hibernation.

164 is a young adult, it was first identified in 2019 as an independent bear, and is still independent. Instead of following after every bear’s lead and taking one of the many fishing spots, 164 made his own at the very base of Brooks Falls, which lets him catch fish from three different directions; from the pool below, dropping down from above, and jumping at him. This new-found spot that no bear has tried before has earned him a unique spot on this list.

747 is an adult and looking at him now, you’d barely know the 747 that was first identified in 2004 when he was only a few years old, scared of people and unable to combat the river’s dominant bears for prime fishing spots. That all changed once he began to grow in 2007, and in 2017, 747 began combatting bears to claw his way to the top, becoming one of the largest bears in the process. He’s estimated to weigh around 1,400 pounds, a size that’ll cause most bears to yield to 747 just by that alone, but despite that, 747 wasn’t at the top of the bear hierarchy until later this year, becoming the Brook Falls’ most dominant bear after defeating 856.

856 is an adult and was identified as a young adult in 2006, starting smaller than other adult bears of his age. Since reaching double digits in age, however, his ego grew, and so did his body. 856 is extremely protective of his fishing spots, and his aggressiveness kept him at the very top of the bear hierarchy, a title 856 has protected consistently for many years. Despite his aggression, 856 has a little amount of scarring, showing that his demeanor is enough to make bears back off.

854 Divot is an adult, and after being identified as an independent bear in 2004, she has faithfully returned to Brooks Falls each year since then. Her nickname comes from the habits she had as a young bear, where she’d dig into exposed gravel to try and get to the fish from the previous year, hidden underneath. In late 2014, she had an illegal wolf snare around her neck, which park staff successfully removed, and during that time, she had one of her cubs with her. 854 Divot is not one to underestimate even when she has cubs, as she will often challenge larger bears to get access to her favorite fishing spot.

151 Walker is an adult and was identified as an independent bear in 2009, and during his youth, he was a bear that loved to playfight with other bears, but that is only a shadow of who he is now. 151 Walker now worries more about surviving rather than playing with others and has always gone to the river ever since 2018, fishing to make himself one of the largest bears at Brooks Falls. That doesn’t come without a cost, however, as he has scars from being the dominant bear.

901 is a young adult, and in 2018 they were first identified as an independent bear. Even as a young bear, she was mature enough to act like an adult; charging at other bears that tried to play, and protecting her fishing spot. Even as an adult now, she retains most of her young bear personality, as shown by her ability to get fat enough to make it onto Fat Bear Week.

909’s Yearling is a cub, and this is her second summer at Brooks Falls. Surprisingly, 909’s yearling was able to learn faster than other cubs and already began fishing alongside her mom at the lip of the falls; something, not any ordinary cub accomplishes. She used to wait alongside her mom for fish, but now 909’s yearling is capable of catching a few fish on her own, growing her independence and socialness with other bears. 909’s yearling will even let other younger, smaller cubs than her win the bouts that she has, showing her sociability.

435 Holly is an adult, and was turning into an adult the year she was identified; 2001. Since then, she has become one of the most recognizable bears at Brooks Falls, but not just by appearance alone; she is the most experienced mother at Brooks Falls and has had several litters of cubs. Despite that, she has had some mishaps with cubs in the past; in 2009 and 2014, one of her cubs was killed, but she bounced back by adopting 503 in September. Other than that, she has been a great mother and will fight defensively for her fishing spots whether she has cubs or not.

32 Chunk is an adult and gets his nickname from 2007 when he was identified as an independent, chunky-looking bear. Over the past years, he has grown into a large and dominant male, one that’ll even steal fish from other bears, but he’ll also wait to eat the scraps from other bears. He is patient and will stand in the same spot, but he won’t skip a beat in challenging other bears for what resources he wants, evident from a large gash across his muzzle. Even with his good fishing skills, 32 Chunk likes to keep a different range of food sources since he’ll travel to different areas, including Brooks Falls as the seasons’ change.

128 Grazer is an adult and came to Brooks River as the young cub of 408 in 2005. She is a jack of all trades and is very skilled at fishing since she can fish in a variety of different locations at Brooks Falls. That’s not the only thing she’s good at, as she is good at raising her cubs, as in 2016 till 2018 she kept all of her three cubs alive until separation; often two cubs will survive with one dying, but due to 128’s Grazer protectiveness and aggressiveness, they survived. She’ll often confront and attack larger, more dominant bears to ensure her cubs’ survival.

480 Otis is an adult and was identified in the year of 2001 as an older subadult. Although he isn’t as dominant nor aggressive, 480 Otis was able to keep his preferred fishing spots as bigger bears ignored him from 2005-2011, but since then he has often been chased out of his fishing spots. It doesn’t help that he’s growing skinner each time he comes back for summer and that 480 Otis is getting old; he even has two teeth missing, and the rest are worn down, but that doesn’t stop him from getting fish anyways. Using a patient strategy and waiting for fish to come to him, 480 Otis expends very little energy while catching salmon. This outlook of his once let him eat 42 fish in one sitting, while normal bears usually catch around 30 fish.

Since Fat Bear Tuesday in 2014, Fat Bear Week has been a success, with the latest one, Fat Bear Week 2022, drawing in a total of 1,031,376 votes over the week, only proving its popularity. But, what bears from this year’s list have appeared in past Fat Bear Weeks before, and what few of them have won?

Starting out from the beginning, Fat Bear Tuesday was announced on September 26, 2014, from Katmai’s National Park and Preserve’s Facebook page, saying “Just four more days to go until Fat Bear Tuesday…are you ready?” Once the fateful day came, September 30th, the race was on! Starting at 8:30 and ending at 14:30, every half hour there was another Facebook post for ‘rounds’ of voting, where whichever bear got the most likes would win and go on till there was a winner. After 14:30, the semifinals between 409 Beadnose and 480 Otis, along with 32 Chunk and 410, it all ended with 480 Otis going against 410 and winning. After the success of Fat Bear Tuesday, Fat Bear Week came to be.

Although there isn’t much information on who was in 2015 and since not one of the bears on 2022’s roster won, there won’t be much on it except for 409 Beadnose winning that competition. Next, in Fat Bear Week in 2016, 480 Otis won the title of the fattest bear again- but that’s not all. In 2017 and 2021, 480 Otis secured the crown, and another bear on this list has also scored a crown, specifically in 2019; 435 Holly. Other than that, every bear on 2022’s list has appeared in another Fat Bear Week at least once, besides 335, 164, and 909’s Yearling.

We’ve only seen the best of the best bears on 2022’s list, but 12 bears barely cover around the 100 bears that live in Katmai National Park and Preserve. So, what is life like for the usual bear, and what troubles could they have faced specifically at Brooks Falls to become fat and furious?

For starters, each bear is different, both physically and personality-wise. Each bear has a slightly different appearance, with small differences between; body size and shape, claw color, ear shape and color, face shape, fur color, shed pattern, and scars. Adult males can be twice as large as females, and bears’ ears can be large or small, oval or triangular in shape, but appearance isn’t the only thing used to identify bears. Each bear has different habits and behaviors, which can affect how they fish, where they sleep, and their tolerance of human beings. A bear could be more aggressive or submissive, and fishing is a learned behavior, so different bears will use different techniques in different spots. Besides specifics, what behavior is shared amongst all bears?

Going hand in hand with the competition, all brown bears try to get fat before hibernation; bears can gain two pounds of weight per day in the summer and fall, and when hibernating, bears can lose around a ¼ to a ⅓ of their body weight before coming back out in the spring, so what is hibernation good for?

Hibernation is good for avoiding periods of famine, and hibernation in bears is likely triggered by hormonal changes, which cause them to stroll into dens in October and November, and during that time bears are capable of amazing things. A bear’s temperature is usually 100°F when awake, but during hibernation, it will drop down to 88°F and a bear’s breathing and heart rate will slow, with one breath and 8-10 beats per minute. 4000 calories can be burnt in a single day of hibernation, and bears survive on the fat reserves and recycle waste to skip the cold harshness of winter.

In conclusion, the brown bears at Katmai National Park and Preserve are a thing to behold, with their chubbiness and interesting characteristics that make each bear unique, from the way they act and fish, to their looks and physical bulk. Fat Bear Week is an intriguing competition that I suggest all of you take interest in next year.