Annual Fat Bear Competition
From its humble beginnings as Fat Bear Tuesday in 2014 to more than 800,000 votes cast last year, celebrating fat bears and Katmai National Park’s healthy ecosystem has become a tradition. For bears, fat equals survival. Each winter, bears enter the den where they will not eat or drink until they emerge in spring. During this time, they may lose up to one-third of their body weight as they rely solely on their fat reserves. Survival depends on eating a year’s worth of food in just six months.
At Katmai, bears are drawn to the large number of salmon readily available from roughly late June through September. Salmon have long since been the lifeblood of the area, supporting Katmai’s people, bears and other animals. Fat bears exemplify the richness of this area, a wild region that is home to more brown bears than people and the largest, healthiest runs of sockeye salmon left on the planet.
Otis enjoying the Salmon Run.
In 2016, we were fortunate to visit Brooks Falls and see Otis (480) demonstrate his relaxed and very successful style which has made him a four time winner of the Fat Bear Contest (2014, 2016, 2017, and 2021). Otis recognizes that patience is a successful strategy. He rarely makes an effort to chase salmon like younger, more energetic bears. Once access to his preferred fishing spots becomes available, he takes advantage of the opportunity while expending little energy. Occasionally Otis appears to be napping or not paying attention, but most of the time he’s focused on the water, and he experiences a relatively high salmon catch rate as a result, eating as many as 42 salmon in one day.
Otis is a medium-large adult male with a blocky muzzle and a floppy right ear. He has light brown fur in early summer. By autumn, his coat becomes grizzled brown and he sports a patch of blonder fur on his right shoulder. He was first identified in 2001 and thought to be four to six years old. Now at 26-28 years, he is one of the older bears at Brooks River.
Fat Bear Week is an annual October celebration of success. All bears are winners but only one true champion will emerge. Held over the course of seven days and concluding on the Fat Bear Tuesday, people chose which bear to crown in this tournament style bracket where bears are pitted against each other for your vote.
You can track the progress of the 2023 competition this October at
To see Richard’s Grizzly Bear Gallery Click HERE
Gear: Nikon D4S, Nikkor 80mm-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR