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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Absolute units return for Fat Bear Week

Peyton McKenzie

I’ve never been one to watch many sports, but I think I get just a small glimpse at what the average straight man feels while filling out their March Madness bracket during Fat Bear Week. 

Fat Bear Week is a competition of truly massive proportions. By massive, I mean up to half a ton.

Each year, the National Park Service tracks the brown bears of Katmai National Park in Alaska as they prepare to go into hibernation — by eating a whole lot of salmon. Come October, the bears enter the final stretch of beefing up for the winter and have reached their fattest forms. 

And each fall, the public gets the opportunity to vote on a selection of chunky contenders in a series of tournament-style elimination rounds. The behemoth bear that voters determine as the fattest of them all receives social media fame and, most likely, the best chance of survival in the harsh Alaskan winter. 

There’s plenty of ways to get involved in the fanfare: by logging on to vote for your preferred bear in every round or downloading your own bracket and following the bears through live webcams on, like roughly 10 million did in 2022 (at any hour of the day, they’re usually catching salmon at a babbling brook).

The winner of Fat Bear Week is not determined by any scientific process: there’s no final weigh-in or display of strength. To put it simply, voters just decide which bear they vibe with the most. 

And this year’s competition, set for Oct. 4-10, is stacking up to be an exciting one. Will four-time winner and stout senior Otis take home the title again? Will 2022’s winner, Bear 747 aka “Bear Force One” — who received more than a million votes — come back for the repeat? Will a rotund rookie enter the race and pull off an upset? 

Tens of thousands already selected their favorite chubby cub in the Fat Bear Junior bracket on Sept. 28 and 29. The youngling dubbed 806 Spring Cub won the hearts of more than 18,000 voters due to his impressive weight gain and longshot story of perseverance in the brutal wilderness.

Whatever happens, I know I’ll be tuning in for this year’s showdown, as will millions of others. 

And this year, it almost didn’t happen as planned. 

The looming government shutdown — brought upon by Congress’ failure to agree on a budget — threatened the annual tournament. The Parks Service announced it would have to postpone Fat Bear Week if federal services went into shutdown mode. Most federal employees are not paid during government shutdowns, meaning that there would be no rangers to monitor the Bear Cams and no parks employees to manage the online presence and social media promotion of the campaign. 

If providing millions of federal workers with their well-earned pay wasn’t enough to inspire action, thank God Congress got it together and agreed on a last-minute temporary budget to delay the shutdown (not for long, funding will run out Nov. 17) in time for Fat Bear Week. 

And as if this beloved competition wasn’t pure enough, it recently helped bring about the rescue of a stranded hiker. Viewers tuning into the Katmai Bear Cams on Sept. 5 were surprised to notice not a bear, but a distressed hiker. The man was mouthing “help me” and signing a thumbs down to a camera stationed on the remote Dumpling Mountain. 

Viewers informed Katmai park rangers, who rescued the hiker just hours after he was spotted online. 

This incredible story illustrates Fat Bear Week’s universal appeal: there’s drama, there’s inspiration, there’s underdogs and dominating forces — and most of all, there’s fat bears. 

So if you don’t like sports, why not try getting in the competitive spirit for Fat Bear Week? I promise it’ll be a heavy-hitter. 

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About the Contributors
Katie Langley, Editor-in-Chief
Peyton McKenzie, Creative Director

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