Lian Law, a visual information specialist at Katmai, said it was so difficult to narrow down the competition that they considered expanding the bracket to include more bears, which are named based on their numbers for monitoring. Instead, they deliberated for hours to come up with the final roster. “I know that some of the decisions we made about who’s in and who isn’t are sure to be controversial,” she said.
The week’s biggest fans don’t vote on size alone, said Fat Bear Week creator and Explore.org resident naturalist Mike Fitz. “We can look into their life histories and consider how that has weighed in on how big they got this year.”
So who made the cut, and who should you vote for? Let’s catch up on this year’s competition.
Coming off of a humongous summer of salmon bingeing, 901 is a wild card entry in 2022’s race. Fans call her the “747 of female bears” (referring to previous winner 747), and rangers describe her as a “go big or go home kind of bear.” Many say she may be pregnant with cubs to be born this spring. “She’s a young female in good health, doesn’t have cubs in tow,” Fitz said. “She just kind of blew up and is a very, very chunky looking bear.”
We should really just start calling it Fat Holly Week. The Queen of Katmai and 2019 Fat Bear Week champ, 435 Holly is a fan favorite and downright Rubenesque. (Just look at this photo Law took of her recently.)
While female bears tend to be smaller than males, “Holly doesn’t have any cubs right now, so she is able to focus solely on herself,” Law said. “She’s beautiful, large and in charge.”
Fat Bear Week superfan Kristyn Whatley got a front-row seat to Holly’s fatness in the flesh when she camped with her husband at Katmai this September. “She walked under the river watch platform when I was standing on it, and, oh my gosh, she was so big she looked like a blimp,” Whatley said. “Like if something touched her, she was going to pop.”
If I was one of the bears up against 480 Otis, I’d be shaking in my boots. Believed to be the oldest male regular at Brooks Falls, the 26-year-old took the crown in 2021, 2017, 2016 and the inaugural Fat Bear Tuesday in 2014.
Last year, Otis showed up to the river with ribs sticking out and missing teeth, but still managed to become a gargantuan mass. This year, the megastar is looking even bigger and healthier, says Gregg Goolsby, who first visited Katmai almost 40 years ago and camped there again this September. He predicts Otis will continue to reign. “Never underestimate Otis,” Fitz said.
Representing the subadults in this competition, 335 is a fresh-faced newcomer to Fat Bear Week. She’s freshly living on her own for the first time, and learning to navigate the world without her mother’s protection. 335 started the season trying to figure out her way in the bear world, but she’s made a name for herself with her playful, friendly nature.
A quirky and curious bear, 164 has garnered Fat Bear fame for coming up with a novel fishing style: watching fish as they leap into the air and catching them when they fall short. He’s also known for his scrappy tactic of catching the missed fish from other, bigger bears.
909’s Yearling made it to the bracket this year by winning last week’s Fat Bear Junior competition, beating 94’s Triplet Spring Cubs by nearly 9,000 votes in the finals. It’ll be an uphill battle to make it through the bracket against the older, heftier contestants, but there’s no denying her ability to bulk. Perhaps the key to 909’s Yearling’s impressive gains is her good genes; her mom is suspected to be the offspring of Fat Bear Week royalty 409 Beadnose, who won in 2015 and 2018.
As a cub, 854 Divot used to dig in the gravel at the mouth of Brooks River in the hunt for rotten scraps of salmon from the year before — leaving behind little divots that inspired her nickname. Carol Brown, a wildlife biologist and Fat Bear Week fan, says Divot has packed on considerable weight this year — so much, in fact, that she seems to be “having trouble maneuvering her ample backside.”
Of course 747 was 2020’s winner; he’s straight-up the biggest bear — bar none. “When you see him in person, you’re like, ‘yeah, there’s no comparison,’” Whatley said. “He’s definitely the fattest.” By the time hibernation comes around, “Bear Force One” weighs an estimated 1,400 pounds. That’s about half the weight of a small car.“Bear Force One,” is covered in scars and is usually found feasting in the “Jacuzzi,” one of the best fishing spots in the river, where he has to fight off other massive bears to dine.
Even though her offspring may have been eliminated in Fat Bear Junior, blonde-eared 128 Grazer is still a bear to watch. An expert fisher known for running off big males, she’s a defensive mom who has a pair of nearly 3-year-old cubs (“The Grazerettes”) with her this season. “That was a little surprising to us,” Fitz said. “With her previous litter, she had separated from her cubs at this age.” Fans may appreciate that maternal sweetness. Plus, she’s giant.
Often seen going toe-to-toe with 747, 856 is in the running for the most dominant bear at the park — although that’s not necessarily a Fat Bear Week advantage. “He’s really huge, but a lot of people don’t like him because he’s kind of a bully,” Whatley said. “I do think people will take that into account when they’re voting.” This year, he’s battling 747 in the first round of the bracket — a true clash of the titans.
Although 32 Chunk “the Hunk” arrived on the scene large to begin with and continued to expand, it might not be his year unless fans really pull through. “He kind of fell into the background of the bears this year,” Fitz said of the normally quite dominant bear. “He didn’t seem to get involved in too much drama, although he has a lot of scars and wounds on him.” The lightbulb-shaped 32 Chunk is facing superstar Holly first in the bracket — not an easy matchup, even for a legend.
After a long hiatus from the Bear Cams, fans were getting worried 151 Walker was down for the count. But he reemerged in September with his signature dark brown coat looking bulbous (and wounded). Usually a giant of the competition, Walker “was definitely more dominant this year than we’ve seen in the past,” Fitz said. “He’s a really big guy, and he’s willing to throw his weight around.”