It's Fat Bear Week — Meet This Year's Chunky Contestants
It's that time of year again: the leaves are changing, the air is getting cooler… and it's time to vote on 2021's fattest bears.
Starting Wednesday, people can vote on their favorite chunky floofs in a March Madness-style bracket for Fat Bear Week, putting the plump bears of Alaska's Katmai National Park and Preserve up against each other in a head-to-head battle.
"Fat Bear Week is to the natural world what March Madness is to college basketball," Charlie Annenberg Weingarten, the founder of explore.org, said in a statement. "But it is also so much more! Bears arrive in July looking thin and frail. Now as winter approaches they are rotund and ready to retire into hibernation. It is a true success story."
Will Holly, who won in 2019 and who identifiers think looks a bit like a toasted marshmallow, take the crown? Or will it be Grazer, the most defensive mother bear at Brooks River? Or maybe Chunk — who received a bye for week 1 — will prevail with his "substantial fat reserves," dominant strength, and sweet desire to play with other bears?
Or perhaps Otis will come out on top as one of the oldest bears in the competition after having won in 2014, 2016, and 2017? He may be missing a couple of teeth, but he's a master at fishing and doesn't have to compete with these young cubs to chase salmon.
The plump bears of the Katmai National Park and Preserve (one of Travel Leisure's top national parks and a great under-the-radar spot to spot wildlife) are at their absolute fattest in the late summer and early fall after feasting on lots of salmon ahead of hibernation season. The park is home to dozens of bears who gather at Brooks River from late June until mid-October.
Voting is open from now until Oct. 5 from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. ET.
After voting, animal lovers can get their fill of chubby bears with a livestream of Brooks River on Explore.org.
Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.