Heavy duty bearing: One-ton Otis wins Alaska fat bear contest

Anchorage, Alaska - It's that time of the year again! The ursine competition was fierce, but in the end, one pudgy brown bear was crowned the winner of the Katmai National Park "Fat Bear" contest!

Bear number 480, dubbed Otis by Katmai National Park rangers, took home first prize in the 2021 Fat Bear contest. Flattering selfie, Otis.
Bear number 480, dubbed Otis by Katmai National Park rangers, took home first prize in the 2021 Fat Bear contest. Flattering selfie, Otis.  © Image/explore.org

In Alaska's Katmai National Park, the "Fat Bear" competition is all about the pounds. The massive brown bear Otis prevailed in the finals against another male bear, named Walker, who is estimated to weigh around a ton. Not quite the 1,400 pounds of last year's winner, Jumbo Jet, but it's still pretty impressive!

Park officials crowned Otis the winner on October 5 after a weeklong contest pitted twelve brown bears against each other. The contest is a fun way to involve visitors and bear fans around the world in the eating habits of the park's brown bears.

"Otis is the greatest! In every way," wrote one fan on the park website.

"Otis deserves the title. No other bear has worked so hard in such a short time," another user jokingly agreed.

At 25 years old, Otis is one of the oldest bears in the area. "He has very few teeth left and was very thin at the beginning of the summer, but he has picked up strongly," park ranger Naomi Boak said.

He is a true master at salmon fishing, even though he often just casually stands in the river looking sleepy. His years of experience let him hunt efficiently, so that he can move less and eat more, Boak explained.

Otis prevails over Walker

Otis (bear 480) and Walker (151), featured by Katmai National Park's before and after pictures during the Fat Bear contest.
Otis (bear 480) and Walker (151), featured by Katmai National Park's before and after pictures during the Fat Bear contest.  © Collage: Images/explore.org

The contest had a voting system that let park visitors and online users root for whichever burly bear they wanted to win.

More than 793,000 votes were received from all over the world this year, significantly more than the 600,000 votes in previous elections.

On Explore.org, bears were presented daily for voting. After six rounds, Otis and Walker faced off in the final round of voting.

Otis transformed himself from a skinny underdog to the chunky champion, raking in the salmon and 51,230 votes, pulling ahead of Walker, who'll need to rethink his salmon-snagging strategy for next year's competition.

Throughout the contest, park visitors and bear fans can watch the candidates stack on the pounds via webcams, and view before and after photos of each bear.

In springtime, the bears are still lean and only have until autumn to build up fat reserves for hibernation. Otis was particularly successful in this after a slow and slim start, and won many fans with his persistence and final bulk.

The exact weight of each bear is unknown, and in order to leave them alone in their natural habitat, rangers rely on accurate guesswork to weigh in each contestant, keep tabs on their overall health, and to inform the bears' fans of their progress.

There is no prize for the winner – but this contest is a matter of life or death for the bears, who need to bulk up, so they can stay warm in the cozy layers of fat that they build up for the winter.

Katmai National Park is primarily focused on informing people about the ecosystem and the habitat of more than 2000 brown bears in the region and pointing out dangers to the animals.

Cover photo: Image/explore.org

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