A bear feasts on the salmon run at Katmai National Park and Preserve on July 13, 2021. (Courtesy of Lian Law, National Parks Service)

A bear feasts on the salmon run at Katmai National Park and Preserve on July 13, 2021. (Courtesy of Lian Law, National Parks Service)

Bears show off full bellies at Katmai for Fat Bear Week

KENAI — The bears of Katmai National Park and Preserve are preparing to show the world their beefy bodies starting today for this year’s Fat Bear Week.

Lian Law, the visual information specialist at the park, said Fat Bear Week is a celebration of success for these animals and the ecosystem in which they live.

“Our place is kind of an outlier,” she said Tuesday, noting that Katmai has one of the largest and healthiest sockeye salmon runs in the world.

According to the National Parks Service, “fat bears exemplify the richness of this area, a wild region that is home to more brown bears than people.”

Fat Bear Week is an online March Madness-style tournament in which people from all over choose what they think is the heftiest bear — if they guess right, they continue on and if they don’t they’re out. Law said the competition is completely “subjective.”

This is the seventh annual tournament, and Law said it has grown in popularity since its conception when it started as just “Fat Bear Tuesday” in 2014.

“Our bear cams have the potential to reach so many people,” Law said. “Our engagement has grown so much.”

In 2019 more than 200,000 votes were cast in the tournament, according to the Washington Post. But last year that number skyrocketed to over 600,000.

Law said the tournament is also a way to unite people who may never be able to visit Katmai or see the bears in person.

In addition to the online competition, officials at the national park will be offering programming throughout the week. Law said that will include bear cam footage, virtual classrooms and a live question-and-answer forum with Katmai rangers.

Law said the success of the summer feast is felt by many people.

“People seem drawn to these bears,” she said.

Voting kicks off with the first matchup between bears 435 and 128, as well as the second matchup between bears 151 and 634. Voting takes place between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. AKDT on Wednesday. To cast a vote, visit explore.org/fat-bear-week.

More programming and information can be found on the Katmai National Park and Preserve’s social media accounts, as well as on YouTube and Flickr.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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