Fat Bear Week: National park's annual jiggle-off is on
Saturday, October 6, 2018, 4:23 PM - The name might sound insensitive to our ursine friends, but Katmai National Park and Preserve's annual competition is celebrating chubby bears, not shaming them.
The competition, which started in 2014, encourages the public to vote in an online tournament of the tubbiest, which pits bear belly against bear belly to see which animal has packed on the most weight ahead of hibernation season.
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With six months of hibernation ahead, the amount of stored fat each bear has is quite literally a matter of life and death, with large amounts of body fat representing "good health and strong chances of survival," according to a release from the park. "Over the course of winter hibernation in the den, a bear could lose up to one third of its body mass," reads the release.
The featured bears are regulars of Brooks River, which has hosted webcams since 2012 to allow viewers around the world to watch dozens of brown bears gather to feast on sockeye salmon. Ahead of hibernation, bears enter a state called hyperphagia -- a period where they eat almost non-stop. This results in dramatic weight gains between the mid-summer and early autumn, when gorging brown bears pack on up to four pounds every day. That adds up to four to five hundred pounds of weight gain over a roughly four-month span for some of the chunkiest males, who will tip the scales at between 1000 and 1200 pounds by the time they settle down for the winter.
The first few days of voting action saw female 'Beadnose' defeat the reigning champion 'Otis' to move onto Sunday's semi-finals.
"Fat bear week started as a way to engage the public with our bears, if people are interested in the bears, they tend to want to help protect them," Ranger Russ Taylor told the BBC. "When we have conservation issues come up you can count on those people to speak up on the parks behalf when you want to make sure the whole region is protected."
Katmai National Park and Preserve sits in southwestern Alaska, at the top of of the peninsula that stretches out into the Bering Sea.