Alaska Life

Spotlight on the chubby cubbies: Fat Bear Junior is the portly prelude to Fat Bear Week

Fat Bear Junior 2022 Bracket

Next week, the annual contest crowning Katmai National Park and Preserve’s champion of chub gets underway: Fat Bear Week officially begins Oct. 5 and runs through Oct. 11.

But first up is Fat Bear Junior!

For a second year, a new crop of young bears that frequent Brooks Falls will have the chance to compete against the biggest bruins.

Four Fat Bear Junior contestants will face off in voting this week, from a spring cub to a pair of 3-year-olds. Voting runs Thursday and Friday, with the winner, or winners, advancing to take on former champions like Holly and Otis in the main draw for Fat Bear Week.

Voting for the contest can be found at fatbearweek.org.

Here are your 2022 contenders:

• 909′s yearling: This cub is nearly 2 years old and was a regular visitor to Brooks Falls in her second summer. At first she waited to be fed by her mother, but late in the season, she became an ace salmon slayer.

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The 909 yearling

• 910′s spring cub: This bantam bruin was her mother’s first-born, so this year was a learning experience for both mom and cub. A frequent playmate of 909′s yearling, this bracket will turn friends into rivals.

910 spring cub

• 94′s triplet spring cubs: These cubs were born last winter, the fourth known litter produced by their mother. The litter was initially four cubs but one was killed by another bear earlier this month. Raising a litter of four to adulthood is incredibly rare. According to park officials, no mother has raised a litter of four since record-keeping started at Brooks River.

The 94 triplet spring cubs

• 128 Grazer’s twin 3-year-old cubs: Their blond-eared cubs are very recognizable. The oldest of the group in the Fat Bear Junior competition, they were born almost three years ago. Predictably, they became more independent this summer and started to fish on their own.

128 Grazer’s twin three-year-old cubs

Guy Runco, executive director of the Katmai Conservancy, said the contest stemmed from a growing interest in the cubs from viewers of the bear cam at explore.org. The growth of the cubs over the summer is often even more noticeable than the adult bears’.

“The change the cubs go through between the springtime and the fall and the amount of weight they put on is incredible,” Runco said.

A first-year cub weighs only about a pound at birth but could grow to 70 pounds by the time of the first winter hibernation. By the end of their second summer, Katmai cubs can weigh over 200 pounds.

There is a strong educational component to Fat Bear Week, and the park and the conservancy have increased outreach to communities nationwide. A program called Fat Bear Week in the Classroom was established to make a connection with kids interested in the science behind the bears’ annual gorge.

“It’s a great way to demonstrate the survival abilities of these bears and the ecosystem they live in and the salmon that come back every year,” Runco said. “It really shows the whole big picture.”

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.

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