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The bracket is out, the salmon are leaping, and the viewers are tuned in: Fat Bear Week is back, baby. If you’re not familiar with the edutainment event turned pop-culture phenomenon, it goes like this: For a week, a group of brown bears from Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve who are currently working to put on winter weight battle it out in a March Madness-style competition, with viewers voting on which they think is the heftiest. The winner gets…well, nothing, other than the title of Fattest Bear. It’s a once-a-year opportunity to go collectively wild over some of the cutest animals in the outdoors (from a safe distance, natch— we’ll be following along on Explore.org’s livestream).
Want to participate? The first round of voting kicks off at 9 a.m. PT on September 29. Check out the bracket and see our editors’ predictions below.
Who Will Win Fat Bear Week?
Adam Roy, Senior Digital Editor: 480 Otis
Fan-favorite 480 Otis was the inaugural Fat Bear Tuesday champion in 2014, and he’s won the title an unprecedented 3 times so far. At approximately 25 years of age, he’s the oldest bear who feeds at Brooks Falls, and isn’t strong enough to compete with younger bruins for the prime spots anymore. But what he lacks in power, he makes up for in experience and efficiency: Rather than lunging at salmon or trying to grab them out of midair, Otis’s modus operandi is to install himself in the most productive fishing hole he can find and move as little is possible, spending whole days scooping his prey out of the river. While he received byes in 2018 and 2020, Otis hasn’t made it past his first matchup since winning the whole thing in 2017. But his record doesn’t lie: I think the, er, “grizzled” vet has it in him to stage a comeback and take his fourth title in 2021.
Emma Veidt, Assistant Skills Editor: 747
The 747 aircraft is commonly called the Jumbo Jet because when it first took flight over 50 years ago, it was the biggest commercial airplane soaring the skies. With his large, low-hanging belly and ample fat reserves, reigning Fat Bear Week champion 747 has a few things in common with it. 747 has undergone quite the metamorphosis since rangers first spotted him at Katmai as a young bear in 2004. At that time, he couldn’t size up against the older, larger bears at the prime fishing spots. But now? He’s the king of the river. 747 is an absolute unit (estimated at least 1,400 pounds), and he uses his size to his advantage while fishing: Other bears back off from him now at the fishing spots because they are intimidated by his strength. His sheer dominance and fishing mastery are absolutely going to make him the chonkiest bear this season, and I’m here to see him take the win.
Kristin Smith, Assistant Destinations Editor: 128 Grazer
Blonde, big-eared Grazer isn’t always the biggest bear at the river, but she is one of the most ferocious. She’s the most defensive of every bear mother on Brooks River, confronting and even attacking some of the largest and most dominant adult males in the area to protect her cubs. Though the strategy is a risky one, it has paid off for Grazer’s cubs, who get access to some of the most productive fishing spots on the river thanks to her aggressive approach. Those fishing spots have also helped Grazer consistently climb to one of the top fat bear spots at Brooks, where her light brown fur and large, fuzzy ears stand out among the other chonks vying for the top spot. Her favorite place to fish? Right at the lip of Brooks Falls, where she can show off her expert angling skills.
Shannon Davis, Editorial Director: 32 Chunk
There are some interesting backstories in this Fat Bear Week bracket. One bear, 435 Holly, is a former champ who adopted an orphaned cub—almost unheard of among brown bears. 480 Otis, is destined for the Fat Bear Hall of Fame for his durability and fishing techniques. But there’s another with a unique mix of badassery and quirkiness that I find magnetic, and that’s why I’m rooting for 32 Chunk. This guy is one of the largest adult bears in the Brooks River, weighing in at an estimated 1,200 pounds, and he’s got the size and strength to lay a smackdown for prime fishing spots. Chunk 32 is also a little weird: Sometimes, he’ll chill and eat another bear’s scraps. Sometimes he just wants to play with other bears rather than fight or fish. He seems like he’s here for a good time, an endearing quality in an apex predator. Also, 32 Chunk is easily the best bear name: We’re ready to do the Truffle Shuffle when he wins.