In the heart of Katmai National Park & Preserve, the virtual ballot boxes have closed, and the results are in for the annual Fat Bear Week contest. In this thrilling online showdown, the public gets to pick their favorite among 12 robust and cuddly bears, all competing in a bracket-style tournament. The year 2023 brought a remarkable victor – an indomitable mama bear, renowned for successfully rearing two litters of cubs and her fearless confrontations with even the most imposing rivals.
Her name is 128 Grazer, and she faced off against the formidable 32 Chunk in a fierce battle for the title. With a staggering 108,321 votes in her favor, she left Chunk, with 23,134 votes, floundering in the salmon-filled waters they both love to frequent. These results were tallied by Explore.org, the official contest tabulator for the National Park Service.
Grazer’s journey as a bear superstar began in 2005 when she was first identified as a young cub dining along the Brooks River in Katmai. Over the years, she evolved into one of the most skilled anglers at the river, with the ability to successfully fish in various locations. This year, Grazer stood solo, with no cubs to protect. Yet, her fellow bears, respecting her unwavering devotion to her offspring, offered her prime fishing spots and opportunities to stock up on salmon.
32 ChunkThe public undoubtedly recognized her exceptional prowess and rewarded her with a resounding victory. Grazer’s final contender, Chunk, was a rising star with an intriguing history of interactions with other bears. Initially spotted in 2007 as an “independent, chunky-looking 2.5-year-old bear,” Chunk was known for playing with fellow bears and patiently waiting to scavenge leftover salmon. However, he was typically reluctant to challenge others for prime feeding spots.
In 2023, Chunk underwent a transformation, exhibiting a newfound assertiveness. This change proved to be his ticket to the final round. Even the reigning 2022 Fat Bear Week champion, Bear 747, relinquished fishing spots and salmon to him. The result? Chunk boasted a low-hanging belly and secured his place in the ultimate showdown.
However, it’s essential to note that even the mighty can fall. Bear 747, the 2022 champ, was eliminated in the first round of this year’s contest, emphasizing that in the bear world, no one can rest on their laurels, especially with winter hibernation approaching. It’s a fierce bear-eat-bear world out there, where only the most formidable survive.