If 2020’s endless slog is getting you down, I come “bearing” some good news — Fat Bear Week is back and it is exactly what it sounds like.
Once a year, officials from Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve set out to determine the fattest and best bear on the local Brooks River. It’s a “March Madness”-style bracket, with a dozen over-sized ursidae battling it out to see who’s the fattest of them all is.
It’s like sports, but instead of worrying about leagues’ COVID-19 protocols or the dangers of very large men running into each other with helmets on, you just get to look at pictures of incredibly fat bears and vote for your favourite.
This year’s bracket runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 6 and pits newcomers like Chunk against two-time Fat Bear Week champion Otis.
Voting is open online for a new face-off every day. The first daily match is posted at 12 p.m. EDT, with the second match posted at 4 p.m.. Voting on each pairing is open until 10 p.m. every day.
After 11 bears are eliminated, the winner will be declared on “Fat Bear Tuesday,” which is Oct. 6. And, frankly, Fat Bear Tuesday should be a stat holiday at this point.
This year’s chunky champion will have a lot to live up to with a high bar set by last year’s winner Holly, who was dubbed the “Queen of Corpulence.”
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Over 187,000 votes were cast in last year’s competition.
What makes a good fat bear? It’s a lot of salmon, berries and hard work on the part of the bear. This time of year, bears go through hyperphagia in preparation for hibernation, meaning it’s impossible to feel full. They put on a bunch of weight that will help them through winter hibernation, when they lose up to a third of their total body weight. Adult male bears in Katmai usually weigh between 600 and 900 pounds, but can hit well over 1,000 in the fall.
Katmai National Park operates several livestreams of the river where the bears catch salmon, and I can confirm those are some hefty mammals and they are going ham on that salmon.
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Katmai National Park is located in southwestern Alaska and is home to some of the most bountiful salmon runs in the world. With few people nearby, that means lots of snacking for some hefty, hungry bears.
Of course, Fat Bear Week takes on new meaning in 2020, as we all partake in our own hibernation of sorts, feasting on sourdough bread and hunkering down for the winter not unlike Holly, Otis and the others.
So if the world is getting to be a bit too much, just fantasize about being a fat bear munching on salmon, with not a care in the world — what a dream that would be.
But until then go vote for your favourite fat bear. At least there’s still some good in the world in 2020.