I’ve never been to Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve but I feel like I know the place very well. Or at least, the section of the Brooks River at which the National Park Service points its bear cams. There’s something so wonderfully relaxing about occasionally clicking over to the tab I have permanently open to those cams, watching a bear or two or sometimes five, lazily snatching at salmon, or splashing themselves in the late summer warmth. Sometimes there are no bears at all and I wonder where they’ve gone and what they’re up to. Napping probably, which is what I’d be doing too after a few hours river walking and feasting on fresh salmon.

But this week is the Superbowl of bear watching on the Brooks. Fat Bear Week begins today, a charming bit of marketing from the NPS, a March Madness-style bracket system in which casual watchers can pick a favored bear who has been packing it on for winter hibernation to compare which bear is the fattest of them all. Voting begins today at Katmai NP’s Facebook page.

Last year’s winner, Beadnose, pictured above, is out of the competition, for one reason or another, so it’s wide open. Otis is a previous winner who is making a strong bid for the crown this year too. Bear 747, a fortuitous name, perhaps, is also a contender. The biggest bears will gain some 400 pounds prepping for their long winter’s nap. Incidentally, the bears remain heart-healthy even after gaining so much fat. They also maintain healthy muscle and bone density during hibernation, something that still mystifies researchers, conditions studied by scientists who work on preparing humans for long-term space flights.


The official bracket for the competition is below. May the fattest bear win.

Top photo: Katmai NPP