KATMAI, AK: Katmai National Park has been flooded with calls for the past few months from people concerned that Fat Bear Week would be canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Well, good news for fans of carnivorous large mammals: the bears are back and they’re fatter than ever.
“People have been telling us, ‘We really need it this year more than ever,’” said Amber Kraft, interpretation and education program manager for Katmai National Park and Preserve. “We have been trying to assure people that fat bears will be there whether there is coronavirus or not.”
Fat Bear Week is a competition in which the public decides which brown bear at Katmai National Park has been most successful in packing on the pounds before winter. It is running through next Tuesday.
But why are people celebrating seemingly overweight bears? If bears do not accumulate ample fat reserves before entering their dens for hibernation, they will not survive.
People go wild for the competition, which has been running for five years. Last year, more than 200,000 people voted and Fat Bear Week garnered media coverage all over the world, from Australia to the U.K. Each year, outlets such as The New York Times, BBC and NPR cover the event.
After the event ended last year, the team behind it pow-wowed on what worked and what didn’t. Until this year, voting for the competition only took place on Facebook. But that is changing.
“There are a lot of folks who don’t have Facebook or are getting rid of their Facebook accounts,” said Kraft, “So we wanted to make this more accessible.”
This year, Explore.org is hosting the competition. People can go to the site to vote, but they can also read about the competition and tune in to Katmai National Park’s live Bearcam. Katmai National Park, Explore.org and Katmai Conservancy are partnering on the effort and using their social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to drive people to the Fat Bear Week page on Explore.org. No PR firms are working on the campaign.
“We launched last week with a live broadcast on Explore.org, where we were able to introduce the bears in this year’s competition and tell a little about their background and characteristics,” explained Kraft. “We have scientists here in the park who monitor the bears. They give each bear a number, and that number is used to see if they come back year after year, so we are able to give a little history of the bears.”
Katmai National Park has been keeping people updated on the competition with its social media pages.
Match 1: Big-Booty Bear BEATS Big Boss— Katmai National Park (@KatmaiNPS) October 1, 2020
The win pits the protégé, 151 Walker, against his Zen master, 480 Otis, on Friday @ 8am AKDT.
Match 2: Son STOMPS Single Sow
812's win may be fleeting, as he steps in the ring with the super-colossal 747 on Friday @ 12pm AKDT.#FatBearWeek pic.twitter.com/GIJjaeMogf
“This is a great mechanism to introduce people to Katmai who have never heard about it before or will never get the chance to come,” said Kraft. “It raises awareness for the park and the resources that we have here.”
She added that the park also wants to use Fat Bear Week to share a conservation message about how bears rely on salmon, and salmon need clean, cold water.
“The whole ecosystem has to work together,” she said, “Fat bears equal healthy bears. And that also equals a healthy ecosystem. We are here to protect these places for the folks here today and for future generations."