For the last five years, Katmai National Park and Preserve in Western Alaska has hosted ‘Fat Bear Week’ to celebrate bears as they prepare for hibernation. The participants are coastal brown bears who live along Alaska’s Brooks River.
The event helps people better understand hibernation. You may not have realized it, but bears spend the summer fattening up because they lose about one-third of their body weight during the winter. It’s an interesting scientific phenomenon. The Katmai National Park Service website explained:
“Hibernation is a state of dormancy that allows animals to avoid periods of famine. It takes many forms in mammals but is particularly remarkable in bears...After a summer and fall spent gorging on food, a bear’s physiology and metabolism shifts in rather incredible ways to help them survive several months without food or water.”
In Katmai, conservancy media rangers select twelve participants from among the park’s 2,000 bears and post before-and-after photos on social media to showcase the effects of summer feasting. People near and far can participate by watching bear cams. There is even an ursine madness bracket where voters choose the fat bear that wins each pairing, and the crowd favorite moves on to the next match-up.
This year, the Fat Bear Week champion was number 435, a.k.a. Holly. The Katmai announcement touting 435’s win stated, “All hail Holly whose healthy heft will help her hibernate until the spring. Long live the Queen of Corpulence!”