The Fat Bear Week competition champions the brown bears of Katmai National Park and Preserve as they complete their transformation from scrawny to enormous for hibernation.
Katmai National Park and Preserve is on a peninsula in southern Alaska. Its wild landscapes span tundra, forests, lakes and mountains.
The park was established in 1918 to protect the volcanically devastated region surrounding Novarupta and the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Today, Katmai National Park and Preserve also protects 9000 years of human history and is an important habitat for salmon and thousands of brown bears.
Lookout platforms at adjacent Brooks Camp offer close-up views of the bears. But you can watch via live bear cams as the contestants of Fat Bear Week fish and feast on the millions of sockeye salmon that run from Bristol Bay down the Brooks River.
Fat Bear Week is a tournament where fans vote online for their favourite fat bear as it beefs up in preparation for winter hibernation. The title is awarded for the fattest (or just the most popular) bear on Fat Bear Tuesday. Fans can vote on their favourite from 5 to 11 October 2022.
“There’s no real set criteria that you’re supposed to vote on,” said Mike Fitz, a resident naturalist with Explore.org who started the competition in 2014. “You could vote on just simply the largest bear or look at relative fatness or consider the extenuating circumstances of each bear’s life such as the challenges of raising offspring.”
The larger goal of Fat Bear Week is to promote conservation efforts to preserve places such as Katmai.
“In a time where most stories of conservation might be doom and gloom, Fat Bear Week truly allows us to celebrate our bears and the Katmai ecosystem overall,” said Lian Law, a visual information specialist at Katmai.
How can you watch live bear cams?
To watch the bears in their natural habitat, tune into Explore.org’s live cams. There are two live cams capturing the scene at the Brooks River – one of the falls (the prime fishing spot) and one with two camera angles near the outlet of the river, and a few more positioned around Katmai.
Read: Reasons to visit Alaska
How much does a fat bear weigh?
The average midsummer weight of an adult male in Katmai is estimated between 320 to 410 kilograms.
Several large brown bears in Katmai can weigh in at more than 450 kilograms by the autumn. Older male brown bears are significantly larger than females.
“They’re sometimes just half as big as an adult male,” Mr Fitz said. “And that’s because of the energy costs of raising clubs.”
How to attend Fat Bear Week in person
You can travel to see the bears but getting to Brooks River, where the bears spend much of their pre-hibernation feasting time, is no simple trip.
The area’s limited accommodation sells out a year in advance. The cheapest option is to camp, but it’s competitive to score one of the few campsite spaces when they become available on 5 January. You can also try reserving a cabin at Brooks Lodge through a lottery system, or a room at Katmai Wilderness Lodge.
If you can’t stay near the Brooks River overnight, Naomi Boak, media ranger for Katmai National Park and Preserve, says travellers can come for a day trip, or visit other bear-watching destinations, such as the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge, where the largest known gathering of brown bears in the world takes place.
Which Fat Bear are you voting for this week? Share your favourite in the comments section below.