Ladies and gentlebears, welcome to Fat Bear Week 2022!
This annual, weeklong competition from Katmai National Park and Preserve is a celebration of a summer’s worth of hard work, a hat tip to a healthy ecosystem and a collection of survival stories. The bears of Alaska’s Katmai National Park have been busy all summer feasting on salmon and stocking up on nutrients for their winter hibernation, and they’ve got the fall bods to prove it.
What started as a one-day event in 2014 conjuring the attention of a few thousand nature conservancy social media followers has grown into a weeklong tournament boasting almost 800,000 votes last year. There are Katmai bear cam watchers in every part of the country, fat bear curriculums in classrooms, fat bear campaign posters, fat bear Spotify playlists and, of course, fat bear bets on who will be crowned the champion.
Similar to March Madness, Fat Bear Week is a bracket-style, single-elimination tournament. The much-anticipated 2022 bracket was released bear-by-bear Monday during a live online event, and we’re here to break it down for you.
Who’s in the bracket?
You can find the complete list of all 12 contenders, before-and-after photos and short biographies at fatbearweek.org. I’ll be sharing more about individual behemoth bears and their mega matchups in the coming days. Without deep diving into a full bracket review, I do want to take this opportunity to thank the rangers for a more equitable lineup this year with regards to the lady bears. We won’t talk about 2021, but let’s just say I’m happy to see so many hard-working mamas back up in this game. I don’t want to unfairly sway folks (cough, 435 Holly) but I’d love to see (cough, 435 Holly) some of these fabulous fat females (cough, cough, 435 Holly) find their way to the crown, for example 435 Holly or 128 Grazer or even a 909 Jr. Bean-yoncé upset (’cause she’s a young queen, and she knows it).
How does it work? How do I vote?
Fat Bear Week runs Wednesday, Oct. 5 through Tuesday, Oct. 11. Each day, one or two matches will be posted on fatbearweek.org. Between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Alaska time, you may vote for one bear in each match. The winner of each match is announced that evening and advances to the next round.
Which fat bear do I vote for?
The voting rubric is different for different people. Some folks believe you should only vote for the physically, empirically, literally fattest bear. Some believe it’s a matter of weight gain — that is, you should determine which bear was most successful in becoming a fat bear between spring and fall. Others believe that fatness is a symbol of overall survival and that one should vote on a fat bear’s skills, success and story arc. Who here is giving off main character vibes? Vote for them.
Personally, I love Fat Bear Week for the poetry. For the 435 Holly in us that wants to be a good mom to any and all our children. For the 480 Otis in us — calm and patient and poised beyond measure. For the 901 in us that “sleeps, eats, and passes on her genetics,” in the words of Katmai National Park ranger Kim Grossman.
Whether you’re a Fat Bear Week fan for life or a newcomer to the scene, I hope you find a bear to put your weight behind. It can be a tough world out there, and yet, we’re all finding our way. I’m here for the gargantuan glow-ups. Let’s celebrate!
Poet and writer Christy NaMee Eriksen is a Kundiman fellow and three-time Rasmuson Foundation awardee who lives in Juneau. She is writing about Fat Bear Week 2022 for the Anchorage Daily News.