Fat Bear Week bracket (Photo courtesy Katmai National Park & Preserve)

Fat Bear Week bracket (Photo courtesy Katmai National Park & Preserve)

Survival of the fattest: Voters decide on the heftiest Katmai brown bear

Voters decide on the heftiest Katmai brown bear

KENAI — The annual tournament pitting the brown bears of Katmai National Park against one another in a contest of fatness — Fat Bear Week — is back.

Every day until Tuesday, the public is invited to vote online on at least one matchup of two bears to decide which will advance. On Oct. 11 — dubbed Fat Bear Tuesday — the fattest bear will be crowned champion. Votes can be placed daily at explore.org/fat-bear-week.

The park says that brown bears get fat to survive the winter, so, the competition is a celebration of which bear did the best job of preparing for hibernation.

Today, the first matchups are live. The left bracket’s Bear 335 vs. Bear 164 and 747 vs. 856.

Bear 335 is a young subadult female, who struggled early in the summer — her first as an independent bear — to find a space to catch salmon. The park said she made her living by scavenging partially eaten and spawned out salmon. She is expected to enter hibernation in good health.

164 is a small adult male. The park says he did his fishing in a spot that no other bear has tried to fish in recent years. His spot is at the base of the Brooks Falls, at the deepest plunge pool. The park says 164 is an innovator.

Bear 747 and 856 are rivals at the top of the hierarchy of Brooks Falls, the park says. The two are the largest adult males, and have switched positions several times.

Bear 747 was first identified in 2004, and is old, big and scarred. He was the 2020 Fat Bear Week champion.

Bear 856 has been, the park says, the most consistently dominant bear in the last decade.

The winners of these two matchups will continue on the left side and take on 435 Holly and 32 Chunk respectively on Friday.

Holly was the champion in 2019, she is also 335’s mother, meaning there’s a good chance mother and daughter end up in competition on Friday. Holly has had many other children, and the park says she is likely to raise another litter.

Chunk is large and scarred, another dominant male. The park says that, in a move unusual for a dominant bear, he has been observed waiting for leftovers and playing with other bears.

On Thursday, the right bracket’s bears get to compete. 854 Divot and 151 Walker go head-to-head, as well as 901 and 909’s yearling.

Divot is a medium-large female who has been known to travel. She was first identified in 2004 but hasn’t always stayed at the Brooks River. This year, she’s been at the river, and is a thriving wild bear with a scar around her neck from a snare she was trapped in in 2014.

Walker is another dominant male. He has been observed as being intolerant of other bears, which is especially striking, the park says, because he was very playful as a youth.

Bear 901 is a growing female — still refining fishing and social skills. The park says she may have conceived, and may return next year with a litter of cubs.

Bear 909’s Yearling is a female cub with the confidence to catch her own salmon. The park says this is unusual. She earned her spot on the bracket after being named the 2022 Fat Bear Junior champion.

The winners of those two contests face 128 Grazer and 480 Otis respectively on Saturday.

Grazer has twin cubs, and has recognizably blond ears. She is also noted by the park to be particularly defensive. She has challenged large and dominant males to protect her cubs.

Otis has won more Fat Bear titles than anyone. He was Fat Bear Tuesday champion in 2014, and Fat Bear Week Champion in 2016, 2017 and 2021. The park says he’s one of the oldest males, no longer dominant. He is missing two teeth, and others are worn. Despite that, he is a skilled angler with a reputation for patience who once ate 42 salmon in one sitting.

On Sunday, those still standing on the left bracket will finish, followed by those on the right on Monday, then it all comes down to Fat Bear Tuesday.

On Tuesday, in the final matchup between the winner of the left bracket versus the winner of the right bracket, the bear who “best exemplifies fatness” will be crowned. The other contenders will have to wait for another shot at the title next year.

To vote for the Fat Bear Week matchups, to learn more about the bears or the event, and to watch livestreams of the fat bears, visit explore.org/fat-bear-week.

• Contact reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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