A Jumbo Jet Among Bears, 747 Soars to Top Spot in Fat Bear Week

Bracket, bracket, on the ‘net, which chubby cub is the most heavyset?

Photo illustration: Smithsonian.com, photos of contenders
May the heftiest chonk win! Photo illustration: Smithsonian.com, photos of contenders: Katmai National Park and Preserve

Editor's note, October 7, 2020: On Tuesday, October 6, the crowd has spoken and 747 was named the biggest, brawniest bruin of Katmai National Park's Fat Bear Week. May his hard work packing on pounds pay off in the form of a snuggly slumber during his winter hibernation.

It’s Fat Bear Week, and that means one thing: 12 chunky, chubby, husky bears rolling in for Katmai National Park’s bracket-style showdown for the coveted champion title, “fattest of them all.”

Fat Bear Week is an annual celebration of the awesome bulk that brown bears amass before they hunker down for hibernation. These fat and fur-ious bears have perfected their winter physiques, but they need your support to progress through the National Park’s ranks.

Voters can judge the competitors by any criteria they want. Most improved from when a bear emerged in spring to their final autumn bulk, most triumphant underdog story, or sheer, fluffy size might factor into each day’s vote.

Fat Bear Week kicks off with up-and-comer Bear 151, Walker, facing off against Bear 856, the most notoriously bad-tempered male at Katmai National Park’s Brooks River. Each day, Katmai National Park will open voting at noon Eastern time, 9 a.m. Pacific. It’s survival of the fattest: the bear with the most votes makes it to the next round.

A new pair of bears will compete each day until October 6, Fat Bear Tuesday, when the winner of the championship brawl is crowned 2020’s fattest bear.

Naomi Boak, Katmai National Park’s media ranger, describes Fat Bear Week as a chance “to get transported to this faraway place and watch and celebrate these wonderful bears,” to Anchorage Daily News’ Morgan Krakow.

The more pudge a bear has built up, the more successful that bear will be for hybernation. Most of that fat comes from chowing down on sockeye salmon, which pack thousands of calories each. Their fat is the fuel that carries them through winter, when bears lose a third of their body weight. The bears don’t eat, defecate or urinate while bundled up in their dens, but females give birth to cubs.

That often sets mama bears back during Fat Bear Week because they start the season slimmer and have to spend energy wrangling rambunctious cubs. But there are some highly competitive moms in this year’s bracket.

Bear 435, Holly, won last year’s Fat Bear Week and this year she’s ready to defend her title. At 25 years old, Holly is one of the oldest bears in the competition, and she may be “the hardest working bear” this season, Boak said in a video produced by the park to announce this year’s competitors. Holly spent her days in the river bulking up while keeping a playful, wandering cub in line.

Two of Holly’s cubs are competing this year: Bear 719 has cubs of her own, while Holly’s current chubby cub—listed as 435's cub—hopes his certified puffball status brings in some support.

A fluffy, chubby brown bear cub in early fall
435 Holly's cub is such a playful puffball, he poked a porcupine. Public Domain

But Bear 128, Grazer, put on the pounds while raising double trouble. In order to support a pair of cubs and reach peak corpulence, Grazer didn’t shy away from battles for the best spots on Brooks River, even against much larger male bears, according to the Park’s video. Usually the other bears backed down from a scrap with Grazer, but even after she got swiped herself, she soldiered on.

“Fat Bear Week has grown beyond my wildest expectations when I first conceived the idea while working as a ranger at Katmai National Park,” Mike Fitz, a former ranger at Katmai National Park and Preserve, said in an email to Ed Cara at Earther.

Fitz is a fan of one of the biggest, boldest, fattest bears ever seen at Brooks River, a bear that truly lives up to his numerical name: 747.

He’s a tank, a giant among bears, a hippopotamus, and an absolute unit rolled into one. A month ago, 747 was so big that he had trouble climbing up a slope, Mark Kaufman reported for Mashable in August. In the last four weeks, 747 has only gotten bigger. But 747 hasn’t won the Fat Bear Week championship title yet.

You can cast your votes online and share Fat Bear Week campaign posters on social media to champion your favorite bear. In one week, we’ll have a winner, and the bears await the results with bated breath.

(They think it’ll help them catch more salmon.)

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