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Fat Bear Week arrives as the biggest brown bears in Alaska’s Katmai National Park battle for title

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Get ready for a grizzly competition…. because Fat Bear Week is back.

Twelve chunky brown bears that have gorged themselves in preparation for hibernation at Alaska’s Katmai National Park are in the running for the title.

Of more than 2,000 brown bears in the park, these are the heftiest and will be judged by online voters on the weight they gained as they fattened up for winter, feasting on abundant sockeye salmon at Brooks River and Falls – an area famous for its leaping salmon and as a fishing hole for Alaskan bears. 

Among the competitors are seasoned favorites returning for another crack at the title  – and some newcomers.

Reigning champion Otis has once again been selected for the competition. Fat Bear Week creator Mike Fitz said: ‘Never underestimate Otis’. Quite right, too. Otis has won more titles than any other brown bear. He was crowned champion in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2021. 

He will go up against the likes of 2020 winner Bear 747, dubbed Bear Force One by fans. Also returning is fan favorite Chunk who despite being one of Brooks River’s most dominant males, which means he claims the best fishing spots, he is yet to claim the title of fattest bear. 

Also in the running this year is Bear 435 – Holly – the champion in 2019. Since being identified at Katmai in 2001, she has given birth to many litters of cubs. One of her daughters, Bear 335, identified by her tracking number, who is living on her own for the first time will compete in this year’s first round. 

The week, which launches on October 5 when online voting opens. Each day sees two bears pitted against each other in a knock-out round, culminating in the overall winner being revealed on Fat Bear Tuesday, on October 11.

Katmai’s brown bears are among the largest in the world with males weighing from 600-900lbs in summer. By October and November their weight can increase to more than 1,000lbs as they prepare for a winter in hibernation, during which they don’t eat, drink, urinate or defecate, and can slow their heart rate to just eight beats per minute.  They can lose up to a third of their bodyweight during those months. 

Explore.com, which runs the competition, said on its website: ‘Dozens of bears gather at Brooks River to feast on salmon from late June until mid October. Perhaps no other river on Earth offers bears the chance to feed on salmon for so long.’  

Who will be the fattest of them all? Katmai National Park’s brown bears will go head-to-head in daily elimination rounds before the winner is announced on Fat Bear Tuesday, next week

THE REIGNING CHAMP: OTIS  – A SKILLED AND PATIENT ANGLER WHO RARELY CHASES THE SALMON, HE JUST WAITS FOR THEM TO COME TO HIM

The reigning champion: Otis - also known by his tracking number of Bear 480 - has won more Fat Bear titles than any other. He was victorious in 2014, the competition's inaugural year, and again in 2016, 2017 and 2021. Pictured in July.
By September, pictured, Otis had started bulking up for winter

The reigning champion: Otis – also known by his tracking number of Bear 480 – has won more Fat Bear titles than any other. He was victorious in 2014, the competition’s inaugural year, and again in 2016, 2017 and 2021. He is pictured left in July and right in September after packing on a few pounds

Reigning champion Otis is one to watch. Even Fat Bear Week founder Mike Fitz says you can ‘never underestimate Otis’. Also known by his tracking number 480, he is now one of the older bears on Brooks River and has plenty of titles to show for his age – he is the winningest of the Katmai brown bears, having secured four titles in the competition’s inaugural year 2014 as well as 2016, 2017 and last year. 

According to Explore.com, he is a skilled and patient angler who picks his fishing spots carefully and waits for the salmon to come to him. This strategy was used to great effect when he chowed down on 42 salmon in one sitting. 

He is however, now getting elderly and has teeth problems. He is currently missing two teeth and he others are worn down. 

 

BEAR FORCE ONE: BEAR 747, THE 2020 CHAMP, WEIGHS AROUND 1,400LBS

BEAR 747 - BEAR FORCE ONE - JUNE: Bear 747 is the biggest in the competition. He battles it out in the first round on Wednesday.
BEAR 747 - BEAR FORCE ONE - SEPTEMBER: He weighs around 1,400 pounds and is covered in scars. He is often found fishing in the 'jacuzzi,' which is the best fishing spot in the river and a place bears often have to fight for a good spot

747 – dubbed Bear Force One by fans – weighs around 1,400 pounds and is covered in scars. He is often found fishing in the ‘jacuzzi,’ which is the best fishing spot in the river and a place bears often have to fight for a good spot. Pictured left in June and right in September

Bear 747 is the biggest in the competition. He battles it out in the first round on Wednesday. 

Super fan Kristyn Whatley told the Washington Post: ‘When you see him in person, you’re like: “Yeah, there’s no comparison”. He’s definitely the fattest.’ 

747 – dubbed Bear Force One by fans – weighs around 1,400 pounds and is covered in scars. He is often found fishing in the ‘jacuzzi,’ which is the best fishing spot in the river and a place bears often have to fight for a good spot. 

The floppy-eared mammal started out the season with reddish-brown fur that transforms into a dark chocolate brown. 

He will be facing his once-dominator 856, who he outranked by the end of summer after ascertaining his superiority.  

HOLLY: ALSO KNOWN AS BEAR 435, SHE WAS THE 2019 WINNER

HOLLY - JUNE: Also known as Bear 435, Holly was the champion in 2019
Holly's fur has been described as 'lightly toasted marshmallow' and she has given birth to many litters of cubs since being identified in 2001, among them is one of this year's newcomers - her daughter 335.

Bear 435 Holly is was the champion in 2019. Holly’s fur has been described as ‘lightly toasted marshmallow’ and she has given birth to many litters of cubs since being identified in 2001.

On Friday, Bears 435, Holly, and 32, Chunk, face off as previous bracket winners. 

Bear 435, also known as Holly, was the champion in 2019. Holly’s fur has been described as ‘lightly toasted marshmallow’ and she has given birth to many litters of cubs since being identified in 2001, among them is one of this year’s newcomers – her daughter 335. 

She successfully cared for one of her offspring who had a limp and even adopted a lone yearling into her family. Even her latest yearling 335 got porcupine quills in one of her front paws and Holly cared for her until she was fully-healed. 

She separated from 335 in Spring of this year. 

CHUNK: LONG-TIME COMPETITOR  – BUT IS YET TO CLAIM THE CROWN 

32 Chunk is back against this year and has apparently leaned into a more dominant role (pictured in July and September)

32 Chunk is back against this year and has leaned into a more dominant role (pictured in July and September)

Holly’s competitor 32 Chunk is back against this year, but is apparently behind schedule. 

‘He kind of fell into the background of the bears this year,’ Fitz told the Washington Post. ‘He didn’t seem to get involved in too much drama, although he has a lot of scars and wounds on him.’ 

That said, he’s become more dominant in the past few years and is willing to challenge others.  

BEAR 335: COMPETITION NEWCOMER IS HOLLY’S DAUGHTER

Bear 335 is Holly’s daughter and will competing in the first round. She’s a newcomer to the competition this year and is living on her own for the first time. The bear is known for being playful and friendly (pictured July and September)

On Wednesday Bears 335 and 164 – identified by their tracking numbers – will be put to a vote, with the winner moving forward to the next round. Bear 335 is a medium sized subadult with color-changing fur. Her coat appears a white blonde in the early summer before turning tan by late summer, Explore.com said. 

She is Holly’s daughter and is a newcomer to the competition this year, living on her own for the first time. The bear is known for being playful and friendly, according to the Washington Post.  

‘She’s grown in body size as well as mass during the last several months, and appears well positioned to enter hibernation in good health,’ Explore.com said in her biography. 

BEAR 164: OUT-FISHES THE MORE EXPERIENCED BEARS WITH CLEVER TACTICS

BEAR 164 - JUNE: Bear 164 is a clever one, inventing his own method to efficiently out fish the more experienced bears.
BEAR 164 - SEPTEMBER: He stands at the base of Brooks Falls, located in the park, near the deepest plunge pool. Salmon come 'jumping through the air or falling down from above,' leaving him with ample amounts of food

Bear 164 is a clever one, inventing his own method to efficiently out fish the more experienced bears. He stands at the base of Brooks Falls, located in the park, near the deepest plunge pool. Salmon come ‘jumping through the air or falling down from above,’ leaving him with ample amounts of food (pictured in June, left, and September, right)

Her competitor Bear 164 was first identified in 2019 when he was two-and-a-half years old. 

Bear 164 is a clever one, inventing his own method to efficiently out-fish the more experienced bears. He stands at the base of Brooks Falls, located in the park, near the deepest plunge pool. Salmon come ‘jumping through the air or falling down from above,’ leaving him with ample amounts of food. 

‘This is a spot that no other bear – currently or in the recent past – has tried to fish,’ Explore.com said.  

WALKER  – BEAR 151: PLAY-FIGHTING CUB WHO GREW INTO ONE OF THE MOST DOMINANT BEARS IN THIS YEAR’S COMPETITION

WALKER - JULY: Known as a 'tolerant and playful bear' in his youth but as he's aged he's become one of the most dominant bears in the contest
WALKER - AUGUST: Descried a 'light-bulb shaped' with wide set ears and prominent dark eye rings.

Bear 151 Walker is descried a ‘light-bulb shaped’ with wide set ears and prominent dark eye rings. He was known as a ‘tolerant and playful bear’ in his youth but as he’s aged he’s become one of the most dominant bears in the contest (pictured in July and August)

Walker is descried a ‘light-bulb shaped’ with wide set ears and prominent dark eye rings. 

He’s known as a ‘tolerant and playful bear’ during his younger years and loves to ‘play flight.’ As he’s gotten older, he’s become more assertive and is one of the most dominant bears in the competition, according to Explore.com. 

‘He’s a really big guy, and he’s willing to throw his weight around,’ Fitz told the Post.  

BEAR 856: ‘BOLD AND ASSERTIVE BULLY’ 

BEAR 856  - JULY: Known for being 'quite bold and assertive toward other bears' and has plenty of scars to prove it
BEAR 856 - SEPTEMBER: The young adult male has become one of the biggest bears in the park after spending a decade being one of the scrawnier ones. He's developed a reputation as a bit of a 'bully'

The young adult male has become one of the biggest bears in the park after spending a decade being one of the scrawnier ones. He’s developed a reputation as a bit of a ‘bully’. He is now known for being ‘quite bold and assertive toward other bears’ and has plenty of scars to prove it. Pictured left in July and right in September

Bear 856 is known for being ‘quite bold and assertive toward other bears’ and has plenty of scars to prove it. 

The young adult male has become one of the biggest bears in the park after spending a decade being one of the scrawnier ones, according to Explore.com. 

He was once the top of the food chain until this summer, when 747 displaced him. 

He’s also got a bad reputation as a ‘bully,’ according to Whatley. 

On Thursday,  Bear 854, also known as Divot and Bear 151 Walker will be competing.  

DIVOT – BEAR 854: SHE GOT HER NAME AS A CUB BECAUSE SHE DUG DIVOTS IN THE RIVERBED 

Bear 854 Divot got her nickname as a cub, because she use to dig little divots in the gravel of Brooks Rivers in search of rotten fish (pictured in July and August)

Bear 854 Divot got her nickname as a cub, because she use to dig little divots in the gravel of Brooks Rivers in search of rotten fish (pictured in July, left, and August, right)

Divot got her nickname as a cub, because she use to dig little divots in the gravel of Brooks Rivers in search of rotten fish. 

She is not shy when it comes to fighting off other bears and is has a distinctive scar circling her neck. The scars origins. however, wasn’t over a piece of salmon, but rather a tricky situation with a snare wire that left a one inch deep scar. 

Unlike other bears, Divot has no problem with people and is often seen in areas where people gather in the park, according to Explore.com. 

Divot has also reportedly gained a surplus of weight this year and is having trouble maneuvering, according to the Post. 

BEAR 901: DEFENDS HER FISHING SPOTS – AND COULD GIVE BIRTH TO HER FIRST CUBS IN SPRING

BEAR 901 - JULY: She is keen on 'defending her fishing spots from other bears
BEAR 901 - SEPTEMBER: This year, she will be competing as an adult bear and could be giving birth to her first batch of cubs on Spring

Bear 901 is keen on ‘defending her fishing spots from other bears. This year, she will be competing as an adult bear and could be giving birth to her first batch of cubs on Spring (pictured in July and September)

Bear 901 is keen on ‘defending her fishing spots from other bears,’ according to Explore.com. This year, she will be competing as an adult bear and could be giving birth to her first batch of cubs in Spring. 

She’ll need ample body fat to her fertilized eggs to implant into her uterus when she starts her hibernation. Female bears experience delayed implantation, which allows her body to ‘unconsciously determine whether she is healthy enough to bear offspring.’ 

Her competitor is only two years old and has recently developed the confidence to catch fish on her own.  

GRAZER  – BEAR 128: A FISHING EXPERT KNOWN FOR RUNNING OFF BIG MALES

GRAZER - JUNE: Bear 128, also known as Grazer, is an expert fisherwoman and is known for running off big males (pictured in June and September)
GRAZER - SEPTEMBER: Her children - known as the Grazerettes - also competed, but lost, in the Fat Bear Junior competition.

Bear 128, also known as Grazer, is an expert fisherwoman and is known for running off big males (pictured in June, left, and September, right)

On Saturday, Bear 128 ‘Grazer’ goes up against the ageing champ Otis. 

Grazer is an expert fisherwoman and is known for running off big males, the Washington Post reported. Her children – known as the Grazerettes – also competed, but lost, in the Fat Bear Junior competition. 

Fitz said it was ‘surprising’ that she was still toting around her cubs, as she had previously separated from her children around this time.

Voting opens at 9am Pacific and Noon EST on Wednesday, October 5. To take part, click on Fat Bear Week’s voting widget.

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