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For Fat Bear Week, pick your favorite for this year’s chunky champ

Sept. 27, 2022 Updated Tue., Sept. 27, 2022 at 6:33 p.m.

By Marylou Tousignant Special to the Washington Post

It’s chow-down time for the brown bears at Brooks Falls in southwestern Alaska. That means a daily diet of salmon, salmon and more salmon. A large adult male bear can catch and eat more than 30 a day. That’s more than 120 pounds of fish.

This happens all summer at Brooks Falls, a popular spawning site for sockeye salmon, which makes it a very popular fishing site for bears in Katmai National Park and Preserve. More than 80 gathered there last summer. Their fishing styles vary: Some scoop, some dive and one wise old fellow just plops in the river and waits for lunch to come swimming by.

Lian Law, visual information specialist at Katmai National Park, said she never gets tired of watching the bears. “I get to see them, not in a zoo, but living their lives in their own habitat.” Ordinary moments for the bears – such as chasing gulls or playing with one another – are surprising and special when observed in the wild, she said.

With October approaching, the park’s 2,200 brown bears need to pack on a few final pounds before winter hibernation, during which they neither eat nor drink, but live off their stored fat. When spring arrives, they will have lost a third of their weight, and the salmon feeding frenzy will begin again. The bears will need to eat a year’s worth of food in the next six months.

Some people travel to Alaska to witness this spectacle. For the rest of us, the National Park Service and have set up live webcams along the river. Then they invite the public to vote online for their favorite tubby bear.

This year, Fat Bear Week runs Oct. 5-11. Each day, pairs of bears face off. Those getting the most votes advance to the next round. At week’s end, a champion is declared.

Will it be last year’s winner, Otis, going for an unprecedented fifth title? Or Chunk, who, despite weighing more than 1,200 pounds, has yet to claim the crown? Or maybe 2019 champ Holly? She’s known for mothering two of her injured cubs as well as adopting an orphan.

A two-day “play-in” competition, called Fat Bear Junior, precedes the main event. The winning chubby cubby advances to the finals to go up against the big fellas.

Size isn’t the only factor in picking a winner. Style and persistence count. So does cuteness. Nearly 800,000 votes were cast last year, more than eight times as many as in 2014, the contest’s first year. Your vote can help pick the 2022 champ. (For details, see How to vote below.)

The winning bear receives nothing but the promise of a long winter’s snooze.

Here’s how to vote: Contest details are at A parent or guardian must okay your vote because an email address is required for submission. Each address gets one vote per day. The site also has details on live chats about the bears (beginning Wednesday), ideas for classroom activities and other links.

Fat Bear Junior voting is Thursday and Friday. Voting for the main event runs Oct. 5-11.

To see what the bears are up tovisit for the brown bear livecam. There is a lot of other cool info on the site, too.

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