This past March saw the NCAA reach the sudden but necessary decision to cancel the 2020 NCAA Tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, hundreds of athletes missed out on the chance to play in the most storied hoops tournament and millions of fans found themselves without brackets to fill out and midday hoops to watch.
The good news for the latter is that we have an opportunity to scratch that bracket itch here in October, not in human sports but in the great competition that is Fat Bear Week. Katmai National Park and Preserve in King Salmon, Alaska is home to a tremendous bear population thanks to Brooks Falls, home to a massive amount of wild salmon, and each year heading into hibernation season, they put on Fat Bear Week, a chance to vote on your favorite gigantic bear and crown a champion before they enter their long, winter slumber.
The voting begins tomorrow on their website and concludes next Tuesday, October 6 when they’ll crown this year’s Fat Bear Champion. You may wonder who each of these bears are and for that, I’m thrilled to present the contenders for this year — who you can read about in full here.
Four bears earn first round byes, the kings and queens of this here fat bear game, and these are your favorites.
[Extreme Jon Gruden voice] They call him 747 cause he weighs as much as a jet, man. Just look at the size of this bear. His bio highlight is that he’s so big he doesn’t even have to be aggressive, other bears just respect the girth.
Although dominant bears can maintain their rank in the hierarchy through aggression, 747 typically keeps his status by sheer size alone. Most bears recognize they cannot compete with him physically and they yield space upon his approach. He was estimated to weigh more than 1,400 pounds (636 kg) in September 2019 and he looks to be at least that big this year.
747 is, for me, a strong, strong competitor.
The reigning, defending Fat Bear Week champion is Holly 435, who has not one but TWO children in the competition this year as well. Just an absolute tour de force of a bear. Her bio highlight includes being called “the shape and color of a toasted marshmallow,” as well as an incredible story of strong mothering.
When Holly and her single yearling arrived in 2007, the yearling had a pronounced limp. Despite the difficulties that accompanied her yearling’s injury, Holly was able to successfully care for him. The yearling’s leg healed by the end of summer and he was weaned the following spring. This bear, now known 89 Backpack, still uses Brooks River.
89 Backpack is both a bear and also the hottest new rapper out of Atlanta.
Not sure if Otis can win this competition again — he is a three time champ but hasn’t won since 2017 — but he certainly would win a “most contented bear” competition, just look at this king relaxing. His bio highlight might be the most relatable of them all.
Otis is a master of patience and efficiency, especially in his preferred fishing spots like the jacuzzi and far pool. He rarely makes an effort to chase salmon like younger, more energetic bears. While Otis occasionally appears to be napping or not paying attention, most of the time he’s extremely focused on the water.
Using energy is for suckers. We stan a patient, occasionally napping in the river king.
128 Grazer has not one but two cubs with her this year and is a beast. Her bio highlight is her unprompted motherly aggression that gets her to the best fishing spots.
Grazer is one of the most defensive mother bears at Brooks River. She often preemptively confronts and attacks much larger bears, including some of the river’s most dominant adult males, in order to ensure her cubs are safe. Her defensiveness is risky, yet provides her with access to areas of Brooks Falls that many other mother bears won’t approach.
Alpha stuff, right there.
The LeBron James of Katmai National Park, his bio calls him the “most consistently dominant bear since 2011,” but also seems to question if he’s soon to lose his grip on top of the bear hierarchy.
Eight-five-six does not shy away from conflict, but how much longer can he maintain his high level of dominance? Life at the top of the bear hierarchy is difficult. As he ages, 856 will increasingly experience tough competition from younger bears who want access to the same resources as he.
#WashedKing [crown emoji] #RWTW #KeepThatSameEnergy [rocket emoji]
That boy is draggin’ a wagon. He was estimated at about 1,200 pounds last year, which puts him in the upper echelon of beef in this year’s class, a couple hundred shy of 747. Bio highlight includes a pivot to becoming a bully to old friends now that he’s achieved maximum girth.
As a fully grown adult, Walker’s priorities have changed. Walker now ranks among the river’s largest bears and he’s become less tolerant of other bears, including some of his former playmates.
Questionable character, but unquestionable size.
Apparently one of the biggest females in the park, and also, a first-ballot Hall of Fame mother just by sheer volume.
Few bears can rival 402’s maternal experience. Four-zero-two is the mother of at least seven litters, more than any other bear currently at Brooks River. This includes two litters of four cubs apiece.
Per the site her fat reserves are large enough to support even more cubs this year.
With a name like 32 Chunk, you know he’s gotta be in the mix. His bio indicates he’s in the “top tier of the bear hierarchy” but is sometimes a kind, gentle bear.
However, his behavior can also be enigmatic. In recent years he’s shown a tendency to wait patiently to scavenge leftover salmon and even play with other bears. These are two uncommon behaviors for a dominant bear to display. Due to his size and strength, 32 Chunk is poised to take advantage of opportunities not available to most other bears. Yet, it is only by observing his full range of behaviors that we can get a true sense of his individuality.
Salute to a sensitive 1,100 pound bear.
Not everyone can be a dominant, fully grown adult, and it’s nice to see Fat Bear Week shine some light on up-and-comers. I don’t think three of them have a chance, but there’s one I’m keeping my eye on.
435 Holly’s Spring Cub
The most adorable contender this year, but don’t let that size fool you, this bear cub has been putting in that work and might be the pound-for-pound champ, going from 1 pound at birth to 60 pounds currently. Has managed to do so despite playing through injury.
Her curiosity hasn’t always led to reward though. In early September, she encountered a porcupine and has since suffered from quills stuck in the bottom of a front paw. The quills do not seem to bother the cub while she swims, but on land she is hobbled and avoids placing weight on the injured paw. Holly’s cub is well positioned to completely recover from the injury caused by porcupine quills, and she’s already shown improvement in mobility.
A real Gruden grinder.