Meet the Winner of Katmai National Park’s Fat Bear Week 2019
Every fall for the past five years, Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska has celebrated Fat Bear Week: a chance, as NPR explained, for people around the world to vote March-Madness style on which coastal brown bear has gotten the chonkiest while gorging themselves in preparation for winter hibernation.
This year's event was the biggest yet, with fans casting a record 187,000 votes, more than three times the number cast last year. And the winner of this massive contest is ... No. 435, or Holly, who decimated the competition by nearly 14,000 votes.
"All hail Holly whose healthy heft will help her hibernate until the spring," the national park wrote when it announced the winner Tuesday. "Long live the Queen of Corpulence!"
Holly was beloved even before she took home this year's heavyweight title, Reuters reported. She is a regular on the park's "bear cam" and earned the nickname "Supermom" for adopting a yearling cub, an extremely unusual act for a brown bear.
This year, however, she had no cubs to care for, and so could focus entirely on fattening up. She spent so much time fishing for salmon that it was hard to get a picture of her out of the water, rangers said.
"She's just a great bear. When she doesn't have cubs, she looks like the Michelin Man," Katmai Conservancy media ranger Naomi Boak told Reuters.
While Fat Bear Week is fun, it's also deadly serious. Bears can lose up to a third of their body mass during their up to six months of hibernation, the park explained. If they don't have enough fat stored to see them through, they can die, Boak told NPR.
The 12 bears that made up the Fat Bear Week competition are lucky enough to feed along Alaska's Brooks River, which has one of the highest concentrations of sockeye salmon in the world.
"Not all bears have this same kind of access to these salmon resources," Katmai Conservancy media ranger Brooklyn White told NPR, "and to an ecosystem that has such clean water."
This was especially true this year, as The Verge pointed out, since a record-hot July in Alaska stressed the salmon, some of whom were found dead before they could get far enough upstream to spawn.
200 miles of river. Dead chum consistently along entire stretch. None had spawned. 850 counted, many more missed. L… https://t.co/Fgp1OwtGs4— Steph Quinn-Davidson (@Steph Quinn-Davidson)1564418051.0
In Canada's British Columbia, meanwhile, a wildlife photographer snapped a picture of emaciated bears this fall struggling to find food amidst one of the area's lowest-ever salmon runs.
While the Katmai bears are lucky in comparison, the climate crisis has still affected them. That's because the salmon were delayed this fall due to drought, which meant that bears and fish didn't arrive along the Brooks River until mid-September, two weeks later than normal, Boak told NPR.
"I've been out there before, when a [salmon] run was delayed by a week, and the bears start getting anxious," Joy Erlenbach, a Ph.D. candidate at Washington State University's Bear Center, told The Verge. "It's scary for the bears because they don't know what's happening. They just know the food they expect isn't there, and it can affect their behavior."
And the impacts of this year's hot weather could linger. It is still too soon to tell if the pre-spawning death of salmon this year will lead to fewer fish for the bears to gorge on during Fat Bear Weeks to come.
But it is possible the bears will be able to adapt to the climate crisis. That's because they are omnivores, The Verge explained. This year at Katmai, for example, cranberries were a popular snack.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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