Starting on Wednesday, the bears of Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska will battle to see who is the burliest of them all, with fat bear fans from around the world choosing the winner online.
Called Fat Bear Week, this portliest time of the year is an annual celebration of the brown bears of Brooks River in Katmai and, specifically, how the burly bears are able to utilize their healthy and abundant ecosystem to pack on the pounds before fall and winter hibernation.
"The Brooks River is part of the Bristol Bay watershed, one of the last great salmon runs left on Earth," the National Park Service said. "Without the pristine Brooks River ecosystem to support an abundant salmon run, there would be no Fat Bear champions."
The Fat Bear Week 2021 Champion, Bear 480 a.k.a. "Otis", with a fish in its mouth on September 16, 2021. (L. Law / Katmai National Park and Preserve / FOX Weather)
People can participate in Fat Bear Week by casting their votes for their favorite gargantuan grizzlies online starting on Oct. 4. Votes will be tallied throughout the week to create a single-elimination, tournament-style bracket competition. On Oct. 10, the NPS will crown the Fat Bear Champion of 2023.
Last year’s champion was Bear 747. According to explore.org, an organization that partners with the Katmai National Park and Preserve and the Katmai Conservancy to host Fat Bear Week, Bear 747 was first identified as a young bear in 2004 that struggled to compete with larger bears for prime fishing territory. Ever since, he has grown to become one of the largest brown bears on Earth, weighing in at approximately 1,400 pounds.
A photo of Fat Bear Week 2022 Champion, Bear 747, taken on September 6, 2022. (L. Law / Katmai National Park and Preserve / FOX Weather)
Packing on so many pounds helps grizzly bears such as 747 survive the cold, harsh winters of Alaska. According to the NPS, the bears hibernate from 5-8 months, a time when they stay in dens to avoid the cold weather. This is also when food sources are scarce, placing more importance on how much fat reserves the bears are able to build up during the summer, when they can gain about 3-6 pounds of fat every day.
The week-long competition for the chonkiest champion began in 2014, when it was simply a one-day affair called Fat Bear Tuesday. Since then, the competition has grown in popularity and expanded into the Fat Bear Week known and loved today. In fact, for Fat Bear Week 20222, more than one million votes were cast from all over the globe, according to the NPS.
To vote for your favorite fat bear, cast your vote here.