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The Salmon of Fat Bear Week

Author: Emily Searles

The first week of October means different things to different people: the start of Halloween, fall foliage, and (if you’re like us at Great Ecology) Fat Bear Week which starts today, October 4th, 2023.

Fat Bear Week is a bracket-style tournament where rangers from the Katmai National Park & Preserve in Alaska nominate bears for the public to vote on (using whatever criteria they desire). The week started as a single “Fat Bear Tuesday” in 2014 and has expanded into a seven-day tradition to celebrate Katmai’s ecosystem and spread information on the importance of fat bears.

Of course, there wouldn’t be fat bears without salmon. Our blog post last year celebrating Fat Bear Week touched on what bears eat, including the large number of sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka). According to the National Park Service, “Salmon have long since been the lifeblood of the area, supporting Katmai’s people, bears, and other animals.” This is largely because of the annual migration of these fish.

Each June and July, fully grown sockeye, having finished developing in the oceans for two to three years, navigate themselves back from the ocean up rivers, lakes, and streams until they land where they were first born. This phenomenon, also referred to as the salmon run, is what attracts the bears to the area in September. While at the beginning of the season there were tens of thousands of fish migrating a day—an overwhelming number for any bear to even think about eating— by the later part of the season, the salmon have weakened and begun to die, presenting ideal eating conditions for the bears.

These conditions make Fat Bear Week that much more possible, as the Alaskan Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) can eat 80 to 90 pounds of food per day in the summer and fall, gaining between three to six pounds of fat each day. Some of the contestants for this year’s Fat Bear Week certainly seem on their way to winning the competition, and the sockeye salmon have definitely contributed to the cause.

Want to see which bear will prevail? Follow along (and vote!) at Catching this blog after the week has already concluded? No problem! You can still learn more about Fat Bear Week in preparation for next year, and watch a live feed of Brown Bears at Brooks Falls anytime.