The contest to decide the champion of chonk is underway, as the bracket for 2022 Fat Bear Week has been unveiled.
The Katmai National Park and Preserve in southwest Alaska announced the 12 bears competing in this year’s event, showcasing a mix of past winners and fan favorites, alongside some new faces to freshen up the action.
It’s actually a difficult task to decide which bears will be selected for the competition, said Lian Law, visual information specialist at the park and lead for Fat Bear Week.
The process begins in the summer because that’s when the bears are still somewhat skinny. Contest officials review them again in late summer after they pack on weight from eating salmon. They are also wild animals, so it’s challenging to find them and take pictures that show off their bulky form.
“Getting those pictures is very difficult. Some of the bears, at this time of year, they’re not even getting out of the water, hardly ever to leave their fishing spots,” Law said. “They don’t just show up on schedule.”
Luckily, some of the most bodacious bears to make the competition are back again. Of the eight bears to ever be named champion, six past winners are in the 2022 bracket, including four-time champion and winner of the 2021 Fat Bear Week, 480 Otis.
And even with other favorites like 435 Holly and 747 returning, don’t rule out any newcomers making a run at the title.
“Bears are individuals and they have different personalities and life stories,” Law said. “It’s always interesting to see the newcomers and what they are bringing.”
Voting begins on Oct. 5 and goes through Oct. 11. You can cast your vote here.
Here are the 12 bears vying for the crown this year, along with some personal information about each one.
Fat Bear Week coverage: Learn more about the celebration of big, bodacious and breathtaking creatures
2021 champion of chonk: 480 Otis, your 2021 Fat Bear Week Champion and four-time winner
- 480 Otis, in his mid to late 20s, is one of the older male bears.
- He is missing two canine teeth and the others are worn down.
- 2021 Fat Bear Week Champion.
- 435 Holly was the 2019 Fat Bear Week champion.
- One of the older bears that uses Brooks River.
- Defensive of fishing spots and her cubs.
- One of the largest and most dominant bears.
- Distinctive scar across his muzzle.
- Waits for scraps and leftovers from other bears.
- She is approximately 17-19 years old.
- Her coat is darker in the fall.
- Staunch defender of prime fishing locations.
- 335 was part of 435 Holly’s most recent litter of cubs.
- She’s considered a subadult, the teenagers of the bear world, and is learning to navigate the world without her mother.
- Often seen playing with other teen bears.
- He is approximately six years old.
- Skilled at finding unique fishing spots and avoiding other bears.
- Creative thinker.
- 747 is the largest bear known to use Brooks River, crowned the Fat Bear Champion in 2020.
- He is heavily scarred, although his size alone intimidates most bears to give up precious fishing locations without a tussle.
- At the top of bear hierarchy at Brooks Falls.
- 856 is a large male, approximately 20 years old and is highly ranked within bear hierarchy.
- His only real competition at the falls is 747.
- Has relatively few scars compared to other bears.
- 854 Divot is approximately 20 years old.
- Got caught in an illegal wire snare that left a scar and had to be removed from her neck in 2014.
- A resilient queen.
- He is one of the largest bears to use the river.
- Has an assertive disposition.
- A skilled angler at fishing.
- 901 is a young bear, first identified as a two-and-a-half-year-old in 2018.
- Doesn’t like to “play fight” like the other young bears.
- Independent, assertive and occasionally mischievous.
909’s Yearling Cub
- 909’s Yearling Cub was first seen at the river in 2021.
- She is social and has quickly picked up fishing techniques from her mother.
- She’s already catching fish on her own, a huge accomplishment and positive sign for a bear her age.
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.