Twelve bears are competing this year to earn the coveted title of “fattest.”

Survival of the Fattest: Katmai National Park’s Fat Bear Week Is Here
Katmai National Park & Preserve
2018 Fat Bear Weak Champion 409 Beadnose set the standard.
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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The Alaska bear population is officially off to the races to add a boatload of calories in preparation for winter hibernation, a time when bears go months without food and water and can lose approximately one-third of their total body weight.

To celebrate the fat reserve festivities, Katmai National Park is once again launching its annual Fat Bear Week, a contest to determine which of the park’s famed Brooks River brown bears will earn the coveted title of “fattest.”

“For bears, fat equals survival,” National Park Service officials wrote on the park website. “Each winter, bears enter the den where they will not eat or drink until they emerge in spring….Survival depends on eating a year’s worth of food in six months. At Katmai, bears are drawn to the large number of salmon readily available from roughly late June through September….Fat bears exemplify the richness of this area, a wild region that is home to more brown bears than people and the largest, healthiest runs of sockeye salmon left on the planet.”

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In the spirit of the salmon-shop-til-you-drop competition, Katmai officials put together the Fat Bear Week 2021 bracket, a March Madness-style, single-elimination tournament pitting the rotund behemoths against one another in contests driven by audience votes.

Twelve bears (get to know them here) are competing for this year’s crown. Four of the 12, including last year’s Calorie King and Sire of Stout Bear 747, will receive a bye in the first round and await the winners of the first set of head-to-head matchups.

Voting for the contest, created thanks to a partnership between Katmai National ParkKatmai Conservancy, and, runs from Sept. 29 to Oct. 5, with the polls open each day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Voters can make their selections through the Fat Bear Week page, and keep tabs on their salmon-devouring favorites courtesy of the live stream below.

“Your Fat Bear Week vote can be based on many factors,” the voting page says. “You can consider a bear’s annual growth like that experienced by cubs and subadult (teenage) bears. … Perhaps you want to weigh your vote toward bears with extenuating circumstances such as a mother’s cost of raising cubs or the additional challenges older bears face as they age. A mother bear’s ability to gain weight is made more difficult because she must provide for herself and the welfare of her cubs, while an older bear can have difficulty finding access to its preferred fishing spots due to competition with larger and younger bears.”

Or, as the contest’s guidelines note, votes can simply be for the most impressively rotund. (Bear 151 is looking significantly thick.)

May the fattest bear win!