‘So big and so happy’: Voting underway in Alaska’s annual Fat Bear Week contest

The bracket-style, online-voting competition will end with a final matchup of salmon-slamming carnivores on Tuesday. (Katmai Conservancy)

Winner last year weighed an estimated 630 kilograms

A contest to determine the beefiest brown bear is underway in Alaska.

Fat Bear Week, a bracket-style, online-voting competition that began on Sept. 29, ends with a final matchup of salmon-slamming carnivores on Tuesday.

The annual contest celebrates the success of brown bears that are preparing for hibernation around Brooks River in Katmai National Park and Bristol Bay, Alaska, by chunking up on salmon.

Katmai Conservancy says the region is home to more brown bears than people, and the biggest sockeye salmon runs left on the planet.

“Because of these mass numbers of salmon, bears are allowed to get so fat,” said Sara Wolman, project manager with Katmai Conservancy.

The bears are in a state of hyperphagia, a drive to keep eating in order to store fat before winter.

Run down of fan favourites

A male bear named 747 was estimated to weigh more than 630 kilograms when he was crowned last year’s winner, said Wolman. Some of the competition’s 12 unwitting contestants have names, while others are numbered.

According to Katmai Conservancy’s website, 747 is a “skilled and efficient” angler who is most often found fishing in the plunge pool — or “jacuzzi” — at the base of Brooks Falls, or near the far pool. “747 typically keeps his status by sheer size alone. Most bears recognize they cannot compete with him physically and they yield space upon his approach,” the conservancy said.

Wolman said 747 is among a bunch of fan favourites.

For example, there was a “heated poll” on Friday. Wolman said Grazer was beaten out by a nine-month-old cub from bear 132’s spring litter which “a lot of people aren’t happy about.”

“Grazer is a pretty interesting one. She’s a female bear, she’s a sow, and she’s had a few different litters at this point and she’s a very protective momma bear,” said Wolman. “She will stand up to the big boars [male bears] to make sure her babies will have the best spots to fish at Brooks Falls.”

Fat Bear Week started out as just a single day back in 2014, and Wolman said it’s grown in popularity year after year.

“It’s a really amazing look into a remote part of the world. Not a lot of people get to … see this pristine ecosystem that’s intact.”

Wolman suspects the pandemic also increased people’s interest. There’s a live web cam that shows the bears feasting in the river, she said, which brings them right into peoples’ homes.

“I think it hits a note, that these bears can get so big and are so happy because they’re in a very pristine place,” she said.

-With files from Meghan Roberts

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: The bears are back: Nunavut sorts through 235 repatriated polar bear hides, CBC News

Finland: Elk hunting season increasingly bringing hunters and joggers in same areas in Finland, Yle News

Norway: Could drones help prevent polar bear attacks on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard?, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Scientists raise alarm about polar bears’ plastic consumption in Arctic Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Hunters push to end Sweden’s ban on bow hunting, Radio Sweden

United States: After deadly bear attack, hikers in Anchorage, Alaska weigh risks, Alaska Public Media

Liny Lamberink, CBC News

Liny Lamberink is a reporter for CBC North. She previously worked for CBC London as a reporter and newsreader. She can be reached at liny.lamberink@cbc.ca

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