Fat Bear Week is an annual celebration of the incredible poundage packed on by the brown bears at Brooks River in Katmai National Park in Alaska as they prepare for winter hibernation by catching and eating as many spawning salmon as they can manage.
The most successful of the bears will eat as many as 30 salmon weighing more than 120 pounds every day.
During Fat Bear Week September 30-October 6, viewers are given the chance to vote through a series of daily, head-to-head, single-elimination, matchup brackets, leading to a weight-gain champion bout on October 6. Voting is open from noon-10 p.m. daily.
Explore.org explained, “Each winter, curled snug in their dens, brown bears endure a months-long famine. During hibernation, bears will not eat or drink and they will lose one-third of their body weight.
“Their winter survival depends on accumulating ample fat reserves before entering the den.
“Katmai’s brown bears are at their fattest in late summer and early fall after a summer spent trying to satisfy their profound hunger.
“Each bear faces its own challenges in order to gain the body mass necessary to survive.
“Adult males need to grow large to dominate the best fishing spots and secure mating opportunities.
“Female bears need to gain weight for their own survival as well as to support the birth and growth of cubs. Bear cubs experience the same hunger as older bears but also undergo tremendous growth spurts.
“Juvenile bears living on their own for the first time must navigate a gauntlet of hazards to establish a home range and find food without mother’s guidance.
“Bears gorge on the richest, most easily obtainable foods they can find. In Katmai National Park, that most often means salmon.
“Dozens of bears gather at Brooks River to feast on salmon from late June until mid-October.
“Perhaps no other river on Earth offers bears the chance to feed on salmon for so long.
“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.”
The National Park Service note that Fat Bear Week “is about body positivity. A fat bear is a healthy bear. Fattening up as winter approaches is a matter of life and death for the bears: relying on stored fat for energy, they can lose up to a third of their body fat as they slow down for the winter. The more bulk they put on, the more likely they are to survive the long, cold months.
“The bears enter a medical state known as hyperphagia in which they eat non-stop and can gain up to 4 pounds in a single day. Some bears can eat dozens of sockeye salmon each day, with each salmon packing about 4,000 calories.”