Fat Bear Week is officially here! Starting today, October 4th, 2023, you can vote for your favorite fat bear in this single-elimination tournament of 12 bears. This is the 9th year of the competition, with the first being a one-day contest in 2014: Fat Bear Tuesday. In the last few years, this event has grown immensely and many have gotten attached to many of the repeat contenders, like 480 Otis. Otis is one of the oldest bears in this year’s competition at an estimated 27 years old and you can actually read all about the 12 bears unknowingly participating in the week over on Explore.org and you can start voting for your favorite bears today

While this week celebrates rotund brown bears, it’s also celebrates Alaska’s Katmai National Park (where the bear contestants all reside), conservation, and the work it takes to get ready for winter. As the National Park Service’s website so eloquently says: “Fat bears exemplify the richness of [Katmai National Park], a wild region that is home to more brown bears than people and the largest, healthiest runs of sockeye salmon left on the planet”. The bears in Katmai and every other brown bear and animal in the Northern Hemisphere are getting ready for winter. The process of bears gaining weight in the autumn is called hyperphagia and during this time, bears in this part of the world are eating and drinking all of the time – and for good reason. By the time spring comes around and the bears come out of hibernation, they will have generally lost a third of their body weight. 

While bears, and many other animals, need to stock up for the winter months, they rarely need human intervention or help and absolutely do not need human food. If you do happen to encounter any sort of wildlife while outside (or even in your own backyard) and you are worried about their well-being, please talk to a trained and experienced professional before intervening. Local wildlife rehabilitators and park rangers are ideal people to converse with before doing anything.

If you want more Fat Bear Week in your life, there are so many resources out there! Explore.org has several live wildlife cams you can check in on, including this one of Brook Falls in Katmai National Park. You can also follow both Katmai National Park and the National Parks Service on social media to see more photos, videos, and other gems relating to Fat Bear Week and other related topics!

Will you be voting in this year’s Fat Bear Week? If so, which bear are you hoping wins? Let me know in the comments!

UPDATE: Voting has officially closed and 128 Grazer has been crowned this year’s champion!

Featured photo from Katmai National Park’s Flicker Page. NPS Photo/F. Jimenez