Welcome to Fat Bear Week 2020! Katmai National Park and Preserve’s brown bears spent the summer gorging on 4,500-calorie salmon, and they’ve transformed into rotund giants, some over 1,000 pounds. The park is holding its annual playoff-like competition for the fattest of the fat bears (you can between Sept. 30 and Oct. 6). Mashable will be following all the ursine activity.
The fat bears have grown exceptionally fat, even for fat bears.
A prodigious, record-breaking salmon run in a major river feeding Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve provided the brown bears — who are livestreamed on explore.org — an abundance of fish this year. The bears munch the skin, red flesh, and brains of the salmon throughout the summer, amassing fat stores to survive their long winter famine (aka hibernation).
On Friday, Katmai and wildlife webcam operators explore.org released the 2020 Fat Bear Week bracket, comprised of 12 bears. The 2020 competition, which starts next week and is voted on by the public, is robust.
“The competition is going to be between the fat bears and the really fat bears,” said Mike Fitz, the resident naturalist for explore.org and a former park ranger at Katmai.
“All the bears are fat this year,” he said.
The ability of bears to grow impressively fat — like bear 435 in 2019 and bear 747 in 2018 — is good news. It represents a flourishing natural ecosystem where the wild world, largely unimpeded by human development, is firing on all cylinders. Katmai is an ecosystem teeming with life. It’s the realm of bears, lynx, moose, wolves, fish, eagles, and wolverines.
“Fat bears exemplify the richness of Katmai National Park and Bristol Bay, Alaska, a wild region that is home to more brown bears than people and the largest, healthiest runs of sockeye salmon left on the planet,” park rangers at Katmai National Park and Preserve told Mashable over email.
With so little competition for calories this year, all the bears benefited, not just the biggest bears who earn the best fishing spots.
“Even sows with cubs are really fat,” the rangers said. “And that is extraordinary because they have to expend the most energy and therefore are usually the thinnest at this time. Not this season. Both spring cubs [in their first year] and yearlings [in their second year] are outsized. And the big boys? One can only use superlatives to describe their outsized success this year.”
“The bears are enormous this year.”
Explore.org compiled a list of this year’s Fat Bear Week competitors, replete with their detailed histories. Bear 747, who was absurdly fat last year, “looks at least this big this year, if not bigger,” said Fitz. Last year’s champ, “Holly,” “is looking pretty pudgy herself,” noted Fitz, and added that the younger bear “Walker” is “really round.”
The bears are thriving. Though looming threats to the fat bears and these Alaskan wilds still loom large. The Trump administration has revived a process to potentially allow an unprecedented, colossal copper and gold mine in the Bristol Bay watershed, which ecologists say would have unacceptably adverse impacts on the region’s flourishing fishery.
Though every Fat Bear Week ends with a champion, each of these competitors is a true winner in the brutal, harsh bear world. These animals, having successfully fattened up this summer, have given themselves an excellent shot at surviving an over six-month-long Alaskan hibernation.
“The bears are enormous this year,” Katmai’s rangers said.