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Voting begins for 'Fat Bear Week': Meet the chunky champs

A national park in Alaska celebrates its hibernation-ready bears with a popular online voting event.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Move over, pumpkin spice season. It's fat bear fall. 

Katmai National Park & Preserve in Alaska has once again started its yearly tradition of Fat Bear Week, in which hundreds of thousands of online fans vote for their favorite bulked-up bears

The park's brown bears prepare for winter by eating as much salmon as possible, storing up weight for a long hibernation. Katmai says once the bears enter their dens, they won't eat or drink until spring — losing up to a third of their body weight. The park says male bears can start out weighing 600-900 pounds, bulking up to well over 1,200 pounds by November. 

For years now, Katmai has invited the public to "weigh in" and vote for the fattest bears in a bracket-style competition. Voting for 2022 began Wednesday and runs until "Fat Bear Tuesday" on Oct. 11.

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You can meet the bears through detailed online bios, then cast your vote. Fat bear fans can even download a bracket or watch the park's live cameras

Credit: Katmai Conservancy/Guy Runco
Bear 747, a big contender in Fat Bear Week 2022. (Katmai Conservancy/Guy Runco)

While it sounds pretty simple — just vote for the fattest bear — the park says voters can also consider the bears' unique life situations. 

"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 that older bears face as they age," a FAQ page says. Plus, young bears may be smaller than the half-ton adult contenders, but their extreme growth spurts are pretty impressive.

Contestants are tracked using numbers, like "mischievous meatball" 335, but fan favorites from past years have their own names. This year's defending champion is Otis, who also won in 2014 and "once ate 42 salmon in a sitting" through his tried-and-true strategy of sitting in the water and letting the fish come to him.

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