Katmai National Park’s 4th Annual Fat Bear Week has returned, to – as the park’s announcement put it – “determine which gluttonous giant sits atop the brown bear oligarchy of obesity.”
And as Katmai National Park’s Andrew Lavalle explained to Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove, there’s no fat shaming here.
GROVE: Why do we care how fat a bear gets? I mean shouldn’t we be encouraging the bears to be healthier or does fattiness mean happiness for bears?
LAVALLE: There’s no pushing them to eat more salad here. A fat bear is a sign of a successful bear, and these bears will lose up to one third of their body mass over the course of the winter and it will be hibernating for up to six months. And so they need to get as much body fat on their bodies as possible. And so it’s really something to celebrate in the bear world. All ours bear seem to be doing pretty well in the Brooks camp area of Katmai. This is a pretty good place. If you are going to be a bear, this is a great place to be one. The sockeye salmon runs have been very large the past two years out of Bristol Bay. And so all of our bears do seem to be doing pretty well.
GROVE: So when did voting start and how is the competition going so far?
LAVALLE: This year’s Fat Bear Week started on October 3rd, which was Wednesday, and it is off to a pretty exciting start and it will all culminate on Tuesday, which is October 9th — Fat Bear Tuesday in which we will crown the fattest bear of 2018. We’ve had some surprises so far. We’ve had Bear 409 absolutely dominate the competition so far. She is a sow who has really packed on the pounds after emancipating some cubs earlier this summer. And we have a couple other bears coming up soon, including Bear 747 which people have compared to a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. And we have Bear 435, nicknamed Holly, who is a crowd favorite as well.
GROVEL You mentioned a sow with two cubs who had emancipated those Cubs. What does that mean?
LAVALLE: Yeah, so sows — female bears — will keep their cubs for about two and a half years. And at about two and a half years old, she will give them the boot. She’ll kick them out and we had one bear particular, Bear 409, who had a set of two pretty large cubs at the start of the season, and she emancipated them, I believe, in late May or early June. So she only has to worry about feeding herself and she’s been quite successful at that this fall.
GROVE: So I hear you using the number for the bears, but I’ve also seen names kind of attached to those bears like human names and I wonder about how people feel about anthropomorphizing them and are there concerns about that.Do you hear from people with those concerns?
LAVALLE: Yeah. It’s a very fine line. So only a few bears have nicknames, and they are not official nicknames. We want to generally stray away from nicknames that are too cutesy or too bias one way or the other. As much as we get to know them and we think we know them on the bear cams or streaming them online, they are still wild animals and untamed and it’s important for us to remember that. This is more than entertainment. It is really a way to educate the public on the idea that this is a struggle for survival for these bears.