This year’s Fat Bear Week could see some of the biggest and fattest bears the competition has ever recorded thanks to a very successful year for salmon in Alaska.
The annual tournament, held on the Brooks River in Katmai National Park by explore.org, the Katmai Conservancy and park rangers, sees a dozen brown bears go head-to-head for the most salmon and the fattest crown.
The brown bears of Katmai National Park are among the largest bears on Earth, with the largest males often weighing over 1,200 kilograms at this time of year. The area is home to more brown bears than people and, every summer, they gorge on fatty fish to bloat themselves enough to survive the winter.
After a large production of salmon, this season is expected to be the biggest yet.
“Pacific salmon are born in fresh water and spend part of their lives rearing there before migrating to the ocean where they take advantage of abundant marine food sources,” Forest Bowers, Director of Operations for the Division of Commercial Fisheries at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. , he told Newsweek. “They return to fresh water where they spawn and the life cycle repeats itself.”
This year saw more salmon return to Katmai’s rivers than any other year on record. “In 2022 the Bristol Bay inshore salmon run was 79 million fish,” Bowers said. That’s 52 percent higher than the 10-year average for the region. “This long run is the product of careful fisheries management and a period of high productivity in the Bristol Bay lake systems, where juvenile salmon are taking a back seat.”
Katmai National Park boasts one of the largest, healthiest runs of sockeye salmon in the world. “Alaska’s fish stocks are generally very healthy because we have pristine habitats and are committed to sustainable management,” Bowers said.
“There is no fat shaming at Fat Bear Week,” explore.org said in a statement. During hibernation, bears can lose up to a third of their body weight, and their winter survival depends almost entirely on these accumulated fat reserves.
Four-time champion Otis is a fan favorite. It is one of the largest bears on the planet, weighing up to 1,400 kg. A skilled fisherman, Otis is known for his patience. Instead of chasing the salmon in the river, he chooses to wait for the fish to come to him. This allows him to maintain his energy and get the most out of each meal. However, after years of wear and tear, it is missing quite a few teeth and faces stiff competition from some of its younger rivals.
The knockout tournament lasts for a week and viewers can vote online. The final will take place on October 11.