Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Meet the Winner of Katmai National Park’s Fat Bear Week 2019

Animals
Before and after shots of Fat Bear Week winner Holly. L: NPS Photo / N. Boak R: NPS Photo / L. Carter

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.

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.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

U.S. President Donald Trump listens as Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases speaks in the Rose Garden for the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House on March 29 in Washington, DC. Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

By Jake Johnson

Just over a month after proclaiming that the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. would soon "be down to close to zero," President Donald Trump said during a press briefing on the White House lawn Sunday that limiting U.S. deaths from the pandemic to between 100,000 and 200,000 people would mean his administration and the country as a whole did "a very good job."

Read More Show Less
Dicamba is having a devastating impact in Arkansas and neighboring states. A farmer in Mississippi County, Arkansas looks at rows of soybean plants affected by dicamba. The Washington Post / Getty Images

Documents unearthed in a lawsuit brought by a Missouri farmer who claimed that Monsanto and German chemical maker BASF's dicamba herbicide ruined his peach orchard revealed that the two companies knew their new agricultural seed and chemical system would likely damage many U.S. farms, according to documents seen by The Guardian.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Washington State Governor Jay Inslee and other leaders speak to the press on March 28, 2020 in Seattle. Karen Ducey / Getty Images

Washington State has seen a slowdown in the infection rate of the novel coronavirus, for now, suggesting that early containment strategies have been effective, according to the Seattle NBC News affiliate.

Read More Show Less
A bushfire burns outside the Perth Cricket Stadium in Perth, Australia on Dec. 13, 2019. PETER PARKS / AFP via Getty Images

By Albert Van Dijk, Luigi Renzullo, Marta Yebra and Shoshana Rapley

2019 was the year Australians confronted the fact that a healthy environment is more than just a pretty waterfall in a national park; a nice extra we can do without. We do not survive without air to breathe, water to drink, soil to grow food and weather we can cope with.

Read More Show Less

By Fino Menezes

Everyone adores dolphins. Intelligent, inquisitive and playful, these special creatures have captivated humans since the dawn of time. But dolphins didn't get to where they are by accident — they needed to develop some pretty amazing superpowers to cope with their environment.

Read More Show Less