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It’s that time of year again: Katmai’s Fat Bear Week is back

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Katmai National Park and Preserve
480 Otis is the reigning Fat Bear Week champion.

The highly anticipated annual celebration of Katmai National Park’s most rotund bears kicks off this week.

The tournament runs Oct. 5-Oct. 11 to decide which Katmai brown bear best exemplifies “fatness.” The competition began in 2014, and has grown into a national phenomenon.

As some of the world’s largest brown bears bulk up for the winter, the event gives voters a chance to celebrate the success of Katmai’s bears as they prepare for hibernation. (“Choose the fattest bear of the year!” the website says.)

The tournament is also meant to highlight the large sockeye salmon runs of Bristol Bay.

Last year, an older bear named Otis took the crown for the fourth time. Around 800,000 people voted in that year’s Fat Bear Week.

The competition is arranged as a single-elimination tournament, where the public can vote in one-on-one fat bear matchups each day until one is crowned champion. (You can download your bracket here.)

This year's contenders include reigning champ 480 Otis, plus 128 Grazer, 32 Chunk and 435 Holly.

The warm-up competition, called Fat Bear Junior, is going on right now. A two-year-old cub called 909’s yearling is up against a litter of three cubs that were born last winter. The winning cub will compete against the adult fat bears.

You can visit fatbearweek.org to vote.

Riley Board is a Report For America corps member covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula for KDLL. A recent graduate of Middlebury College, where she studied linguistics, English literature and German, Board was editor-in-chief of The Middlebury Campus, the student newspaper, and completed work as a Kellogg Fellow, doing independent linguistics research. She has interned at the Burlington Free Press, covering the early days of the pandemic’s effects on Vermont communities, and at Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife, where she wrote about culture and folklife in Washington, D.C. and beyond. Board hails from Sarasota, Florida.
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