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The Fattest Bear Of Them All

The fattest bear of 2020 has been decided!

Beating out the hefty competition is Bear 747. After gaining media attention for his waddling appearance, bear 747, named for a randomly assigned number that became pretty telling, was a fan favorite from the start. 

2020 Champ, Bear 747 at Katmai National Park
National Park Service Photos / N. Boak

Often the biggest bear at Katmai National Park and Preserve’s Brooks River in recent years, bear experts say 747 has weighed well over 1,000 pounds. He has never, however, won the Fat Bear Week contest.

“If Fat Bear Week were based on size alone, it would likely be no contest,” said Mike Fitz, a former Katmai park ranger and currently a resident naturalist for explore.org. “747 appears to be at least as massive as last year when he was estimated to weigh more than 1,400 pounds, and I would not be surprised if he is even heavier this year… He’s the fattest and largest bear I’ve ever seen,” added Fitz. “I feel a special bit of privilege to witness a bear as big as he.”

Brown bears can put on up to four pounds of weight a day from June until mid-October. The largest adult males can weigh more than 1,200 pounds when they enter their dens. A bear’s survival rests on having a large amount of stored fat, meaning the brown bears have to eat a year’s worth of food in six months in a process known as hyperphagia.

Watching bears pack on the pounds for winter will never not bring a smile to our faces and Fat Bear week has brought us some much-needed joy over the past week. Fat Bear week, in case you aren’t in on this very specific beauty contest, involves online voters deciding the fattest brown bear of Brooks River in Katmai National Park, Alaska. Among the 12 bears who competed for the 2020 title is last year’s champ, Bear 435 (Holly). 

2019 Champ, Holly at Katmai National Park
National Park Service Photos / L. Carter

The annual tournament celebrates the success of the bears at Brooks River in Katmai National Park. Beginning as Fat Bear Tuesday in 2014, the contest expanded into a weeklong contest a year later to raise awareness about the wildlife in the park and preserve, the home to about 2,200 brown bears.

“People love bears and they love a good competition,” said Amber Kraft, a spokeswoman for the park told the New York Times. “This year, in particular, Fat Bear Week is a nice break from everything else going on,” she added.

Fat bears are more than just a fun distraction courtesy of the natural world. The voting brings awareness to 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. 

Katmai is part of the Bristol Bay watershed, home to the largest run of sockeye salmon on Earth. While flourishing today, a process has recently been restarted to potentially allow a giant copper and gold mine to open in the watershed. Ecologists emphasize that such a mining district would have unacceptably adverse impacts to the fishery. The thriving salmon run exists, in large part, because salmon have unimpeded, unpolluted access to all the region’s rivers and streams, where the fish breed and develop. The fat bears are a testament to the success of this natural system.

Though voting has ended for 2020 you can still donate to the Katmai Conservancy and help to support the protection of the fat bears.

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