Meet Fat Bear Week 2022’s Colossally Chunky Contenders and Get Ready to Rumble

by Jon D. B.
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Fat Bear Week 2022. (Photo credit: NPS, Explore.org media release)

Will the immense Otis claim another victory in 2022? Fat Bear Week is upon us, and it’s time to meet 2022’s behemoth bruins ahead of the bracket.

If this is your first Fat Bear Week, prepare yourself for the March Madness of the natural world. If it’s not and you’re as excited as I am, then welcome back to the world of Katmai National Park’s colossal contenders!

The Alaska park’s resident brown bears are already some of the largest on Earth. But come feeding season ahead of winter hibernation, these local bruins fatten up to preposterous proportions (1,200+ pounds). They do so by feeding on the thousands of salmon rushing through the Brooks River, and it is sight after sight to behold.

And plenty of Fat Bear favorites are returning for 2022, alongside a few newcomers and this year’s Fat Beat Junior chubby cubby champion. So whether you have a favorite or not (we’re looking at you, Otis), now’s the time to get to know 2022’s contestants ahead of voting’s kick-off tomorrow, October 5.

The name of the game is, as always, to vote for your favorite behemoth bears. Some choose to vote by appearance (i.e.: which bear has become the most massive). Others choose charisma via Explore.org’s Katmai National Park Bear Cams. Whatever your method, these are the bruins battling it out for the title of 2022’s fattest bear:

Fat Bear Week Regular: 32 Chunk

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Fat Bear Week’s 32. (Photo credit: Candice Rusch, Explore.org Press)

“Chunk was first identified in 2007 as an independent, chunky-looking 2.5-year-old bear,” Explore.org notes. “He now ranks among the river’s largest and most dominant males. This allows him greater access to mating opportunities and fishing spots.”

Like most enormous brown bears, Chunk doesn’t back away from a challenge. He will often displace others from the resources – including prized Brooks fishing spots – that he wants. He also displays scavenger behavior, so Chunk is one to watch on the charisma scale, for sure.

Fat Bear Week Favorite: 128 Grazer

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Fat Bear Week’s 128. (Photo credit: Candice Rusch, Explore.org Press)

“Grazer was introduced to Brooks River as a young cub in 2005. Since then, she’s become one the river’s most recognizable bears,” Explore.org cites. “Grazer can fish successfully in many locations at Brooks River including the lip of Brooks Falls. During late summer and early fall, she can be more cryptic and often chooses to fish in other areas of the river.”

For Fat Bear Week fans, Grazer is famous for being a particularly defensive momma bear. She will preemptively confront and attack much larger bears, placing her high atop the charisma scale, too. She never hesitates to ward off enormous, dangerous males to protect herself and her cubs.

Fat Bear Week Bruiser: 151 Walker

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Fat Bear Week’s Walker. (Photo credit: Candice Rusch, Explore.org Press)

“Walker was first identified as an independent 2.5-year-old in 2009. He’s a frequent user of Brooks Falls where he prefers to fish in the far pool and on the lip,” Explore.org explains.

In his youth, Fat Bear Week fans watched as Walker remained a playful, sociable bear. Seeking out sparring partners and prolonged play fights, Walker was as charismatic as they come. As an adult brown bear, however, he’s become a dominating presence in Katmai as one of the Brooks River’s most feared titans.

“Walker’s behavior demonstrates that bears can change their behavior and priorities as they grow and mature,” Explore.org continues. And for Fat Bear Week voters, he’s going to be one to watch as he’s truly tremendous this year.

Bear 164

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Fat Bear Week’s 164. (Photo credit: Candice Rusch, Explore.org Press)

“Bear 164 was first identified as an independent 2.5-year-old bear in 2019. Fishing at Brooks Falls isn’t easy for young bears of 164’s age and size. It can be difficult to develop angling skills when larger bears occupy the most productive and easiest to access fishing spots,” Explore.org cites. “Younger bears must wait their turn, try less preferred fishing spots, or leave and fish somewhere else. Some young bears never get substantial opportunities to fish at the waterfall.”

This never stops 164, however. A truly unique bear, he invented his own fishing spot, as Explore.org explains:

“[164] stands at the very base of Brooks Falls at the edge of the deepest plunge pool. At this location, he can catch salmon welling up from the pool below, jumping through the air, or falling down from above. This is a spot that no other bear—currently or in the recent past—has tried to fish. Through innovation, bear 164 carved himself a unique niche at Brooks Falls.

Bear 335

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Fat Bear Week’s 335. (Photo credit: Candice Rusch, Explore.org Press)

This gorgeous young blondie “is one of the youngest bears in Fat Bear Week,” Explore.org explains. “As the daughter of 435 Holly, bear 335 was introduced to Brooks River at an early age and she returned to the river this past summer, her first as an independent bear.”

No longer relying on another Fat Bear Week favorite for protection – her mother, Holly – Bear 164 must now fend for herself along Brooks’ feeding grounds. Is she up for the task? Or will she garner votes based on her gorgeous coat alone?

Fat Bear Week’s Momma Bear: 435 Holly

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Fat Bear Week’s Holly. (Photo credit: Candice Rusch, Explore.org Press)

And then there’s everyone’s favorite momma bear and former Fat Bear Week champion, Holly. “When she was first identified in 2001, Holly was just maturing into an adult. Since then, she has reared several litters of cubs and in the process has become one of the most experienced bears at Brooks River,” Explore.org cites.

Holly has gained immense weight in the past, crowing her the 2019 FBW champion. She’s adopted yearling cubs, raised tenacious offspring, and continued to navigate the hundreds of bears on Brooks River successfully. Will 2022 see her crowned Queen once more?

King of Fat Bear Week: 480 Otis

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Fat Bear Week’s Otis. (Photo credit: Candice Rusch, Explore.org Press)

If Holly is FBW’s Queen, then Otis is the reigning King. “Otis was four to six years old when he was first identified in 2001, and he’s now one of the older male bears at Brooks River. As bears age, they experience a variety of challenges and Otis is no exception,” Explore.org says.

Otis is not only enormous, but he is also one of the oldest brown bears alive in the wild today. It is exceptionally rare for his species to reach their max age of 30+, but at 26-years-old, this old bruin is still going strong. And he’s doing so despite two missing canines, worn down teeth, and a shaggy, time-altered coat.

Despite his age, Otis once ate 42 salmon in a single sitting via his personal strategy of “wait and the salmon shall come to me.” Using his energy-saving finesse, Otis has won more Fat Bear Week championships than any other bear, taking home the title in 2016, 2017, and 2021.

Fat Bear Week’s Jumbo Jet: Bear 747

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Fat Bear Week’s 747. (Photo credit: Candice Rusch, Explore.org Press)

As Explore.org cites, “Few brown bears ever grow as large as the bear who shares an identification number with a jet airplane.”

And 747 is truly the jumbo jet of brown bears. “When 747 was first identified in 2004, he was a relatively young bear, only a few years old and unable to compete with larger bears for the most preferred fishing locations,” Explore.org continues. “Since then, he has become one of the largest brown bears on Earth, perhaps weighing as much as 1,400 pounds (636 kg).”

His astounding ability to pack on pounds made him the 2020 Fat Bear Week champion. And he’s poised to be the bear to beat in 2022, as he finally overcame his dominant rival, Bear 856, in summer of 2021. Taking back grand fishing spots, 747 is once again gloriously rotund.

854 Divot

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Fat Bear Week’s Divot. (Photo credit: Candice Rusch, Explore.org Press)

Another blonde beauty, “Divot has returned to Brooks River every year since she was first identified as an independent 2.5-year-old bear in 2004,” Explore.org says. “Like bears 335 and 435 Holly, Divot is habituated to the presence of people. She often uses areas of the river corridor where people gather such as the bridge and Naknek Lake beach.”

Habituation is never encouraged. But is has given Divot an advantage regardless. She is not shy about standing her ground when faced-off with larger bears, either. She’s even survived a tragic trip outside Katmai National Park, where she triggered a wire trapping snare clinching around her neck.

Thankfully, park rangers and biologists were able to tranquilize and remove the snare. After a quick, fierce recovery, Divot is ready to take on FBW challengers at an impressive weight.

Bear 856

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FBW’s 856. (Photo credit: Candice Rusch, Explore.org Press)

“Bear 856 was classified as a young adult in 2006. At the time he had a relatively small body compared to older adults. By his tenth or eleventh year of life, however, he became one of the biggest bears at the river with an assertive disposition equal to his size,” Explore.org explains.

856 has experienced setbacks along the way, too. Yet he was the river’s most consistently dominant bear between 2011 and 2020. “He uses his size and fighting skills to intimidate other bears in order to gain access to food and potential mates. His status in the hierarchy was never assured though. In 2021, and despite not appearing to be any smaller than previous years, he was displaced from the top of the hierarchy by long-time rival 747,” Explore.org adds.

856’s dominant nature makes for an imposing, charismatic contender to watch in 2022. And he is, as photos clearly show, truly enormous this year.

Bear 901

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FBW’s 901. (Photo credit: Candice Rusch, Explore.org Press)

What a tank. “Bear 901 was first identified as a 2.5-year-old in 2018. She fishes throughout Brooks River and sometimes is keen to defend her fishing spots from other bears. As a young adult in 2022, she continued to refine her fishing and social skills,” Explore.org says of 901.

She has yet to raise cubs, but 2022 may be her year. And after putting on incredible weight during hyperphagia, she’s ready for the sort of healthy hibernation that will allow her to rear offspring. Cubs are only born in mid-winter hibernation if the mother has gained enough body fat to support pregnancy.

Needless to say, she’s packed on some pounds and is truly a beautiful bear. Will 2022 be her year?

Fat Bear Junior Champion: 909’s Yearling

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Fat Bear Week’s chubby cubby. (Photo credit: Candice Rusch, Explore.org Press)

Look at that face! Already a champion of 2022’s Fat Bear Junior competition, the yearling of 909 “frequently visited Brooks Falls in her second summer alongside mom,” Explore.org cites. “At first, she waited patiently for her mother to catch the salmon needed to feed the family. By August, however, the yearling developed the skills and confidence to catch a few of her own salmon on the lip of the falls—a feat that yearling bears rarely accomplish.”

During the summer of 2022, 909’s yearling would highlight the maturity and growth experienced by second-year cubs. Her undeniable charisma and playful nature gave her a spot in 2022’s Fat Bear Week bracket after being crowned Queen of the chubby cubbies.

And that’s your contenders, Outsiders! Be sure to check the Explore.org Fat Bear Week Bracket to begin voting for your favorites tomorrow, October 5, 2022.

Outsider.com