Fall is the best time of year. The days get colder, leaves change color, and pumpkin spice can be found in every coffee shop across the country. From Halloween to Thanksgiving, fall is stacked with holiday fun, but the best fall event often goes unnoticed. I am talking about Fat Bear Week, which this year ran from Sept. 30 to Oct. 6. In a time when nothing seems normal, Fat Bear Week gives us a chance to celebrate nature’s yearly routines.
Fat Bear Week is a celebration of the brown bears that reside in Katmai National Park and Preserve, on the southern coast of Alaska. This is an ongoing tournament-style competition in which two bears are pitted against each other and the public decides which bear is fatter based on photographic evidence. Katmai is well known for its booming population of brown bears, currently estimated to number 2,200. It’s very easy to confuse brown bears with grizzly bears because they’re actually the same species, but grizzly bears live inland whereas brown bears inhabit the coast. Brown bears stand 2.5 to 5 feet tall, can weigh up to 1,300 pounds, and live about 25 years on average.
During the late summer and early fall months, bears prepare for hibernation by eating all the food they can find to put on weight. This process, known as hyperphagia, is what allows bears to survive the long winter months without eating. The average brown bear will eat upwards of 90 pounds of food, and put on about nine pounds, per day. Some bears can gain over 1,000 pounds during these months, doubling their weight!
This weight gain is short term, since bears lose more than a third of their body weight during hibernation. Brown bears are one of the most omnivorous animal species—they will eat just about anything. Their typical diet consists of berries, fish, acorns, pinecones, grass, roots, bulbs and small mammals. If it can be found in their habitat, there’s a good chance a brown bear has consumed it at some point.
After a week of matchups and online voting, the winner of Fat Bear Week has been crowned! Congratulations to Brown Bear #747 or “Jumbo Jet”, as he’s been dubbed. 747 was last year’s runner up in Fat Bear Week. He was the fan favorite throughout this year’s competition. He absolutely dominated the last round, with 47,055 votes in his favor.
Jumbo Jet is estimated to weigh more than 1,400 lbs! He is planning on celebrating his victory with the finest Alaskan salmon and a long winter’s nap.