The competition in 2019’s Fat Bear Week is particularly heated

Welcome to Fat Bear Week 2019! Katmai National Park’s bears spent the summer gorging on 4,500-calorie salmon, and they’ve transformed into rotund giants, some over 1,000 pounds. The park is holding its annual playoff-like competition for the fattest of the fat bears (you can vote online between Oct. 2 and Oct. 8), and Mashable will be following the ursine activity. 

Every bear is a winner.

They endure harsh, brutal lives, months of famine (hibernation), violent fights, and incessant threats by competitors.

Yet, at the conclusion of Fat Bear Week, there must be a single champion. The annual online competition, while certainly fun, is a valuable way for us to appreciate the perseverance of wild animals that still live wild lives in Alaska’s untrammeled, undeveloped (for now, anyway) wilderness, a land teeming with wolverines, lynx, salmon, and bald eagles.

Katmai’s bears, home to one of the densest concentration of bears on Earth, appeared on the webcams in June as relatively skinny, sometimes gaunt looking, animals. But by September, the brown bears put on hundreds of pounds — some with bellies that nearly scrape the ground.

“It’s been amazing to once again watch the bears’ transformation from lean animals to the roly-poly giants they have become,” marveled Mike Fitz, a former park ranger at Katmai National Park and currently a resident naturalist for

There are 12 plump bears in the park’s 2019 Fat Bear Week bracket. But this year, unlike many years, there are a number of top, formidable contenders. 

Katmai National Park’s 2019 Fat Bear Week Bracket.

“In some years, there’s clearly one or two fattest bears in the Fat Bear Week tournament, but that’s not the case this year,” said Fitz. 

Fitz, who spent much of the summer observing these bears, noted four true heavyweight challengers this year. Who are they?

(Just a note: Images below are not the park’s official 2019 Fat Bear Week images, which Katmai will release throughout the week to inform your voting. This is accomplished by “liking” the bear pictures on Facebook.)

Chunk and 747

These big bruisers are in the prime of their lives. They are two of the most dominant bears at Katmai’s salmon-clogged Brooks River, and are able to position themselves at the most opportune fishing spots. The bears can devour dozens of fish over the course of a few hours. 

“Chunk and 747, in particular, likely weigh well over 1000 pounds and perhaps more than 1200,” noted Fitz. “They’ve been able to use their size and disposition to consistently gain access to their most preferred fishing spots at Brooks Falls.”

Bear 747

Bear 747 in 2018.

Bear 747 in 2018.

Bear 32 “Chunk”

Bear 32 "Chunk" in 2018.

Bear 32 “Chunk” in 2018.

Both 747 and Chunk’s great fat reserves will be essential even next year, when they awake after a six-month-long hibernation. “After emerging from hibernation next spring, they’ll need their fat reserves to fuel their pursuit of mating opportunities during a time of year with relatively little high-calorie food,” said Fitz. 

Holly and Grazer

These impressive bears both raised cubs last year. But this year they are roaming the river without any needy offspring to feed.

“Without the energetic burden of raising cubs this year, Holly and Grazer have been able to devote all their efforts to their own body size,” noted Fitz. 

“Holly and Grazer are smaller overall compared to the big adult males, but they may be even proportionally fatter than Chunk and 747,” he added. “Holly and Grazer might give birth this winter, so they’ll need their fat to not only support their own survival but also that of any cubs.” 

Bear 435 “Holly”

Bear 435 "Holly" in 2016.

Bear 435 “Holly” in 2016.

Bear 128 “Grazer”

Bear 128 "Grazer" in 2016.

Bear 128 “Grazer” in 2016.

Image:  nps / ANELA RAMOS 

One notable omission from this year’s Fat Bear Week bracket is Bear 409, or “Beadnose,” who was last year’s glorious champion

Mashable will explore her disappearance in a forthcoming story. But even with 409’s conspicuous absence, the competition is heavy.

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