Fat Bear Week 2022 is here, and the competition is intense

Large, living legends dwell in the remote Alaskan wilderness.

They’re the internet-famous bears of Katmai National Park and Preserve, and they grow impressively fat over the summer on the livestreamed explore.org wildlife webcams. A majority of these bears — like the singular, persevering Otis — return to feast on calorie-rich salmon in the park’s Brooks River each year. Katmai celebrates the success of these wild animals by hosting an annual Fat Bear Week contest in the early fall.

In reality, every bear is a winner for surviving in the harsh northern wilderness. But the public (that means you) gets to vote online for the fattest bear in a light-hearted tournament. It’s a superb way to learn about the fascinating lives of these animals, and how they thrive.

After months of chomping salmon, there are always some extremely daunting ursine competitors by October. Many of the animals eat thousands of fish over just a few months. In 2022, however, the competition is so stiff, there’s no clear favorite. You can see these rotund bears in the images below.

“This year the tournament is pretty wide open,” Mike Fitz, a former Katmai park ranger and currently a resident naturalist for explore.org, told Mashable.

“Some of the choices are going to be really hard,” said Fitz, who authored a book on these animals called The Bears of Brooks Falls. “This is going to be one of the more exciting competitions.”

“This year the tournament is pretty wide open.”

The bears are fat because they live in an untrammeled, flourishing ecosystem. Dams, mines, and development haven’t destroyed the natural bounty there — though the Trump administration attempted (and failed) to give a company the chance to construct an mining district in the region. The foundation of this habitat — salmon — flourish in the area’s rivers and streams. The fat bears thrive because the salmon thrive.


The female fat bear that’s as dominant as the big, bad male bears

“None of this would happen without the fish,” Fitz emphasized.

In 2022, Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed, home to a vast network of largely protected waterways, saw its largest ever historical run of salmon. Many of these fish swam up a primary river that feeds into Katmai. The bears devoured the salmon on the livestreamed webcams.

The official 2022 Fat Bear Week bracket.
Credit: explore.org

Here are the 2022 Fat Bear Week contenders

Bear 435, “Holly”

Holly is a former Fat Bear Week champion who has successfully raised many cubs — and even adopted one. Her cubs were old enough to embark on their own this summer, allowing Holly to put on formidable weight. “A bachelorette’s life this summer afforded her the opportunity to concentrate on her own needs,” explains explore.org. “Yet, the body fat she accumulates this summer and fall will be put to good use. She needs it to survive winter hibernation and potentially give birth to a new litter of cubs in the den.”

a bear fattening up over the summer

Fat Bear 435, “Holly.”
Credit: Top: T. Carmack / NPS // Bottom: E. Johnston / NPS

Bear 856

For much of the past decade, bear 856 has been the most dominant and aggressive bear of Katmai’s Brooks River. He is still one of the most dominant bears in the Katmai hierarchy, though the colossal bear 747 (detailed below), is currently the top bear. “No matter what, life at the top of the bear hierarchy is difficult,” says explore.org. “As he ages, 856 experiences tough competition from younger bears. Yet despite the danger, difficulty, and risk that he experiences, 856’s demonstrates that some bears thrive through a life full of conflict.”

a bear fattening up over the summer

Bear 856.
Credit: Top: C. Rohdenburg / NPS // Bottom: L. Law / NPS

Bear 747

Bear 747 is the largest bear many Katmai park rangers have ever seen. He’s a former Fat Bear Week champion. “He seems to be more hippopotamus than bear at times,” a ranger once told Mashable.

a bear fattening up over the summer

Bear 747.
Credit: Top: C. Rohdenburg / NPS // Bottom: L. Law / NPS

Bear 128, “Grazer”

Grazer is an especially fierce bear who vigilantly protects her young. She’s one of the river’s most dominant bears. “Grazer is a particularly defensive mother bear,” explore.org explains. “She often preemptively confronts and attacks much larger bears — even large and dominant adult males — in order to ensure her cubs are safe.”

a bear fattening up over the summer

Bear 128, “Grazer.”
Credit: L. Law / NPS

Bear 480, “Otis”

Otis, a multiple Fat Bear Week victor, may be the most famous bear on Earth. He’s often conspicuous on the livestreamed bear cams, patiently waiting to catch passing salmon. In 2021, he was the champion we all needed.

a bear fattening up over the summer

Bear 480, “Otis.”
Credit: Top: C. Rohdenburg / NPS // Bottom: L. Law / NPS

Bear 151, “Walker”

Walker has grown into one of the most assertive and largest bears of the river. He’s leading a new generation of Katmai’s fat bears. He’s known for putting a lot of weight on his hind quarters. “He establishes and maintains his dominance at Brooks Falls by displacing other bears from preferred fishing spots,” explains explore.org. “He also expresses much less tolerance for other bears, including former playmates, compared to his behavior in the recent past.”

a bear fattening up over the summer

Bear 151, “Walker.”
Credit: Top: T. Carmack / NPS // Bottom: K. Grossman / NPS

Bear 32, “Chunk”

Chunk is an extremely large male bear, often seen with scars on his face and body. Few bears can intimidate Chunk from the best fishing spots in the river. “

a bear fattening up over the summer

Fat bear 32, “Chunk.”
Credit: L. Law / NPS

909’s yearling cub

This is bear 909’s yearling cub, which means the cub is in its second year of life. The cub grew particularly chonky this summer. It also exhibited impressive independence for such a young bear. “By August, however, the yearling developed the skills and confidence to catch a few of her own salmon on the lip of the [Brooks River] falls—a feat that yearling bears rarely accomplish,” noted explore.org.

a bear fattening up over the summer

Bear 909’s yearling cub.
Credit: L. Law / NPS

Bear 335

Bear 335 is a young bear, the offspring of Katmai legend Holly (above). She’s in a daunting, and quite vulnerable, stage of life. “Life as a young subadult bear is full of strife,” explore.org explains. “You’re among the smallest and least dominant, so other bears displace you frequently. You must forage for yourself, but catching salmon isn’t as easy as the more experienced bears make it look.”

a bear fattening up over the summer

Bear 335.
Credit: Top: K. Moore / NPS // Bottom: T. Carmack / NPS

Bear 164

Bear 164 isn’t one of the most dominant males. But he’s still excellent at catching fish in areas where the most dominant bears aren’t fishing. “Through innovation, bear 164 carved himself a unique niche at Brooks Falls, explore.org wrote online.

a bear fattening up over the summer

Bear 164.
Credit: T. Carmack / NPS

Bear 854, “Divot”

Divot emancipated two cubs this summer, meaning they were old enough to survive on their own. Divot didn’t have to share fish with her helpless cubs, and grew profoundly fat. She’s is a smart, intelligent bear that earns the right to fish some of the river’s best spots. She recovered from a major, unnatural injury in 2014, when a wire snare snapped around her neck, perhaps outside the protected Katmai region. “The circular scar around her neck remains evidence of her ordeal and reminds us that wild animals do not recognize our political boundaries,” notes explore.org.

a bear fattening up over the summer

Bear 854, “Divot.”
Credit: K. Moore / NPS

Bear 901

Katmai rangers describe 901 as “fiercely independent.” She’s one of the bulkiest sows spotted this season. And this bear isn’t just fattening up to ensure her own hibernation success, either. Other bears may join her, via birth, in the den. “Female bears such as 901 need ample body fat to support their survival in hibernation as well as the growth of newborn cubs,” says explore.org. “901’s efforts throughout the summer are a potential investment in more than her own individual survival.”

a bear fattening up over the summer

Bear 901.
Credit: Top: C. Rohdenburg / NPS // Bottom: L. Law / NPS

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