It’s one of the most thrilling weeks of the year. An annual celebration of thickness so big that people tune in from around the world to cast their votes and celebrate the new king or queen of chunkiness. Of course, I’m talking about Fat Bear Week.
The 2021 Fat Bear Week just wrapped up, and for the 4th time, a bear known as 480 Otis was voted champion.
Fat Bear Week takes place in Alaska every year and is hosted by the Katmai National Park and Preserve Explore.org and the Katmai Conservancy. The goal of Fat Bear Week is to showcase the Park’s brown bear population that attracts tourists from around the world to watch the bears fish for salmon as they fatten up for winter.
Katmai National Park is home to an estimated 2,200 bears, and the area also hosts the most prominent, healthiest runs of sockeye salmon on the planet. Access to such a protein-packed food source allows the bears to back on weight quickly.
The life cycle of these bears is fascinating to watch. They emerge from hibernation looking sick and frail after months of starvation, and then their instinct to fatten up kicks in. They spend the summer feasting in preparation for another winter.
Fat Bear Week has been described as a celebration of success and survival. It started seven years ago as a special known as Fat Bear Tuesday to highlight how bears prepare for winter hibernation.
The first Fat Bear Tuesday was such a success that it was expanded to a whole week. Fat Bear Week now includes a March Madness-style bracket where individual bears are matched up with each other, and the public can vote online to determine which one looks the thickest.
Fat Bear Week runs each year from late September to early October. Last year a bear named 747 won the competition and tipped the scales at more than 1,400 pounds.
The story of 480 Otis winning this year’s title is quite the comeback story, though. Otis beat out a much younger bear named 151 Walker in the finals to take home his 4th Fat Bear Week trophy, but this was by far the most unexpected of his wins.
Otis is 25 years old and emerged from hibernation later than usual this year, looking quite frail and reportedly facing numerous health problems.
“In particular, he is missing two canine teeth, and many of his other teeth are greatly worn.
Otis must also compete with younger and larger bears who want access to his fishing spots. Otis is more likely to be displaced by these bears than he is to displace them.”
Despite rolling into summer with a frail frame, he packed on the pounds and got chunky enough to win this year’s title. Otis is also a fan favorite due to his mellow personality and patience with other bears.
HE also employs a more laid-back fishing style, lying back and letting the salmon come to him in the river instead of running around chasing the fish, some like some younger, hungrier bears.
Of the 96,000 votes cast in the final round, 480 Otis received a decisive 51,000 of them. His perseverance when it comes to fattening up for winter did not go unnoticed by voters who could also submit comments alongside their votes.
Before and after pictures of Otis provided by the National Park Service show the bears tremendous transformation.
His perseverance, will to live (he was having such difficulty walking at first; his hind legs had problems) and skill as an angler — plus his inter-bear communications — well, they just spoke to me.”