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Fat Bear Week is the life-or-death showdown to find Alaska’s heaviest bear

This photo taken July 4, 2013, in Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska, shows a brown bear walking to a sandbar to eat a salmon it had just caught at Brooks Falls.
AP Photo/Mark Thiessen
Winner winner salmon dinner.
By James Shakespeare
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Yogi may have been smarter than the average bear, but which of his ursine cousins is the chubbiest? That’s what rangers at Katmai National Park in Alaska are hoping to uncover in Fat Bear Week, which ends with one of the park’s 2,200 brown bears winning the title of Fattest Bear 2018.

This isn’t some cruel form of trolling, though. Bears in the park are currently gorging themselves on salmon in preparation for hibernation, during which they rely entirely on their fat reserves to weather the long Alaskan winter that sees temperatures fall as low as -35°F (-37°C). “There’s no fat shaming here,” the national park wrote in a Facebook post announcing the competition, “we’re celebrating the survival of Katmai’s most successful bears.”

Fatter bears are more likely to survive the winter and thrive in the spring, as those emerging a little less skeletal in the new year will have better odds of mating. A typical adult male brown bear can tip the scales north of 1,000 lbs (454 kgs) as it enters hibernation, about as heavy as a grand piano.

But those hoping for a sumo showdown to decide the title are set to be disappointed, as it is the general public that ultimately decides which bear’s head is suitably plump to wear the crown. The competition format is a March Madness-style bracket system that lets Facebook users vote on bears’ photos, taken from the park’s many webcams.

Fan-favorite and reigning champ is bear 480, aka Otis, a 22-year-old behemoth that has won every year but one since the competition’s inauguration in 2014. What he lacks in youthful energy he makes up for in zen-like patience, spending hours motionlessly waiting for salmon to unwittingly jump past his massive paws.

Fans’ support of their favorite bear echoes that of the most zealous sport fanatics. “Otis, Otis, he’s my man. If he can’t do it, no bear can,” one follower commented on the Katmai Facebook page. From another: “Go 503 the Prince of Katmai!!!!” In the increasingly fractured and hostile world of social media, Fat Bear Week provides much-needed respite in the reliable form of plump, fuzzy animals.

The competition began on Wednesday (Oct. 3) and sees two bears square off in the digital arena each day until the chunky champ is announced next Tuesday.

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