The people have spoken, and a chunky behemoth has been crowned the fattest bear in Alaska during the state’s Fat Bear Week contest: All hail 480 Otis.
Katmai National Park said late Tuesday the brown bear had come out on top after a dramatic transformation following a 2½-month eating frenzy, gorging himself on salmon before the winter. Otis, a 25-year-old bear who lives in the park, garnered more than 51,000 votes in the contest, overcoming the almost-but-not-quite-as-hefty 151 Walker.
It’s Otis’ fourth win and comes before he reaches his peak fatness. The bear overcame a late start in this year’s feeding frenzy and was extremely thin when he was observed in July. Otis is also missing two of his canine teeth, and his others are “greatly worn,” his bio says.
“Otis must also compete with younger and larger bears who want access to his fishing spots,” the biography reads. “While Otis occasionally appears to be napping or not paying attention, most of the time he’s focused on the water, and he experiences a relatively high salmon catch rate as a result.”
As Katmai said Tuesday, to celebrate the crown, Otis was “still chowing down” like a true champion. Brown bears can gain up to 4 pounds a day, and Otis was estimated at 900 pounds in 2019, The New York Times notes.
Fat Bear Week is an annual online tradition celebrating bears’ success as gluttonous glories in the months leading up to their winter hibernations. Bears gather along waterways in Alaska to feast on salmon from late June until mid-October to gain enough mass to survive a long, cold winter.
“Each winter, curled snug in their dens, brown bears endure a months-long famine,” a website for the competition says. “During hibernation, bears will not eat or drink and can lose one-third of their body weight. Their winter survival depends on accumulating ample fat reserves before entering the den.”
The transformations of Otis and Walker over the last months are astounding.
For the bears at Katmai, fatness is a key indicator of good health not just among their populations but for the environment as a whole.
“Fat bears exemplify the richness of Katmai National Park and Bristol Bay, Alaska, 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 site says.