Fat Bear Week 2023: Alaska national park prepares to crown its fattest bear before hibernation

Fat Bear Week, the most wonderful time of the year, is almost upon us. It’s a time when the bears of Katmai National Park and Preserve pack on the pounds in preparation for winter, but only one bear will be crowned the biggest of them all.

Each year, the Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska marks the beginning of the hibernation season with its annual tournament-style bracket competition, in which the public votes for their favourite fattest bear.

What is Fat Bear Week?

The inaugural Fat Bear Week was launched in 2014, when it was simply called Fat Bear Tuesday. The Katmai National Park and Preserve, which is located in southern Alaska, founded the event to celebrate the park’s brown bears and the healthy ecosystem of its Brooks River. Fat Bear Tuesday became so successful that it expanded to Fat Bear Week the following year.

Each year, the park rangers create a tournament style bracket pitting individual brown bears against each other, and the public can vote online to see who will advance each round.

When is Fat Bear Week?

The week-long event begins on 4 October and concludes on Fat Bear Tuesday, 10 October. Throughout the season, fans can also tune in to a live-feed bear camera, which has been set up at the falls of the Brooks River.

While the event doesn’t begin until early October, people can currently cast their votes for Fat Bear Junior – a smaller bracket where the chubbiest of cubs compete for the chance to go up against the bigger bears in the main Fat Bear Week bracket. The Fat Bear Junior bracket will be revealed on 26 September at 7pm ET.

Who is competing?

While this year’s bracket hasn’t been announced yet, the national park will reveal the 12 brown bears that are competing in Fat Bear Week in a live-chat at 7pm ET on 2 October. Fans can vote on Explore.org’s website every day of the competition between 12pm and 9pm ET.

How fat are they?

Katmai National Park is home to some of the largest brown bears on Earth, according to the national park’s website. Adult male bears can average between 700 to 900 pounds in mid-summer. In late summer and fall, the biggest males often weigh more than 1,200 pounds. Meanwhile, adult female bears can average smaller than adult males by one-third to one-half.

Who are the previous winners?

In the inaugural Fat Bear Tuesday, the people chose 480 Otis as champion. He went on to reclaim his title for Fat Bear Week in 2016, 2017, and 2021. Last year, voters chose 747 as Fat Bear Week champion, after more than one million votes were cast online during the tournament.

However, competition can be tough as there’s an estimated 2,200 brown bears inhabiting the park.

What do the winners get?

Six months of restful solitude, according to park rangers.

Why do we celebrate Fat Bear Week?

While Fat Bear Week is a fun way for the public to vote on their favourite, most rotund bears, it also encourages people to learn more about Katmai’s ecosystem. The national park is home to the Brooks River, which is part of the Bristol Bay watershed – one of the last great salmon runs left on earth.

Bears are attracted to the large swarms of sockeye salmon in the Brooks River from roughly late June through September. Katmai’s bears eat a year’s worth of food in just six months to prepare for hibernation, when they will lose up to one-third of their body weight until they reemerge in the spring.

Fat Bear Week wouldn’t exist without the Brooks River’s healthy waters and abundant salmon.