October 06, 2021
In one corner, joining the Brooks River group as a cub in 2007 and walking his way up the hierarchy to become one of the weightiest bears among the titans of tonnage… 151 WALKER!
In the opposite corner, a king among the rotund royalty, a bear who doesn’t let his lack of teeth stop his gargantuan gorging of salmon, one of the oldest bears along the Brooks River… 480 OTIS!
These two corpulent competitors faced off mano a mano … er… grasa a grasa with a win coming at the hands of the voting public who are free to judge the bears by their own criteria. 151 Walker made it through several of his rounds with ease as people wondered if his massive “beardonkadonk” would have an impact on the tides of surrounding bodies of water. There is an element of adorability that can factor in as shown by the surprising turnout of votes for 132’s spring cub. Sentimentality can never be overlooked either as the aging 480 Otis had several campaign pitches focusing on his age and uncertain future, especially after he showed up at Brooks River later in the season this year and looked skinnier than ever. All of the bears were hard at work gorging themselves during their hyperphagia, no longer feeling a sense of being full, working hard to get the votes of the public, to get your vote, to be crowned the Fat Bear Week Champion.
Fans of Katmai National Park and Preserve always look forward to Fat Bear Week and 2021’s competition was no exception. This event takes place with the partnership and collaboration between Katmai NP&P, explore.org and the Katmai Conservancy.
An important aspect to this celebration of our corpulent corps of thickset titans is to bring attention to the ecosystem that functions so well in Katmai NP&P. The Bristol Bay region is home to one of the last vibrant and natural salmon runs in the world and this food source is one of the reasons our bears get as hefty as they do. There are still obstacles, however, and this year saw the bears struggling at times. The salmon run was later in the season so the bears were relying on the grasses longer than in the past few years, foraging the available food while waiting for the salmon. Once the salmon started showing up, the bears also had to contend with higher water levels, changing the optimal fishing locations and causing more competition and confrontations amongst the bears. Fortunately, the salmon did arrive, albeit in a sputtering and inconsistent trend, and the bears did get to pack on their pounds. Several of the bears were seen on the cams well into October, even through some early snowfalls. 480 Otis was among those bears hanging out at Brooks Falls later in the season, still grabbing fish and packing on the pounds, showing that the work of champion is never done.
This year, the Fat Bear festivities expanded to include the first ever Fat Bear Junior competition, a two day bracket style matchup pitting two spring cubs and two yearlings to compete for one spot in the main event of Fat Bear Week 2021. This really set the competitive yet lighthearted tone for what we would see in the voting throughout the Fat Bear competitions. 132’s spring cub took the inaugural crown as Fat Bear Junior in a well-deserved win.
Despite the social media issues around the world on 10/4, an outcome some people thought might have been from the heft of these fat bears weighing down the internet, votes came pouring in once again this year. A grand total of 793,463 votes were cast during Fat Bear Week 2021. Katmai NP&P is ecstatic the message about the importance of healthy ecosystems is getting out to so many people worldwide. Remember that fat bears are healthy bears, and all the competitors from the bracket this year looked very healthy indeed.
In the end, 151 Walker and 480 Otis put on one heck of a show in a very close race with nearly 100,000 votes cast. Much like the bears’ waists, 480 Otis’ lead kept expanding throughout the day and he won 51,230 – 44,834. Bear 480 Otis gained his fourth crown this year, having won the inaugural one-day competition in 2014, creating a mini-dynasty with back-to-back wins in 2016 and 2017, and now his spot back on top regained in 2021. Several people have dubbed bear 480 “Otis the King” and even “Otis the GOATis” (for anyone needing a translation, GOAT = “Greatest Of All Time”). One campaign poster summed up the Zen like mantra of 480 Otis with, “Sleep until you’re hungry… Eat until you’re sleepy.”
Speaking of connections, if you are interested in continuing the learning from our fat bears, there are extension ideas for classrooms from Katmai NP&P as well as lesson plans from explore.org for everyone to use. We hope these bears continue to inspire everyone to learn more about what makes Katmai such a unique place and the importance of a clean and healthy ecosystem.
Last updated: October 6, 2021