Who will be the fattest Katmai brown bear? Forget Beadnose, Holly is like the ‘Michelin Man.’

Bear 435 Holly, aka “Michelin Man.” (Public domain photo by Naomi Boak/Katmai National Park and Preserve)

As local elections wrap up around the state, a more whimsical type of voting is getting started this week.

A dozen brown bears in Katmai National Park and Preserve are competing for the title of fattest bear during the park’s annual Fat Bear Week, and this year, rangers are using 3D imaging to find out precisely who’s fattest.

It started out as Fat Bear Tuesday.

Former ranger Mike Fitz noticed a Facebook comment marveling at a brown bear’s summer weight gain, and “a light bulb popped into my brain,” he said. “And I thought, you know, wouldn’t it be kind of fascinating and fun if we have the online audience decide who they thought was the fattest bear.”

Five years later, it’s expanded into a weeklong, March Madness style bracket, with thousands of people around the globe weighing in to crown one hefty bear the winner. Summer “bear cams” hosted by Explore.org attract 19 million viewers from around the world — day one of the bracket saw more than 13,000 voters.

Fitz said the wildly popular competition has helped put Katmai on the map and highlight the need to protect the bears’ habitat.

The votes are in and today's winners are:128 Grazer did not let 151 walk all over her. Will voters succumb to the…

Posted by Katmai National Park & Preserve on Thursday, October 3, 2019

Brown bears on Katmai’s Brooks River spend all summer bulking up on sockeye in preparation for winter. Some end up over a thousand pounds, and many yearlings can literally double in size, according to Katmai Conservancy media ranger Naomi Boak. She helped pick the contenders this year.

“It’s an equal opportunity competition,” Boak said. “It’s not just the gigantic boars that are in this competition, but the single sows and sows with cubs and spring cubs and subadults and yearlings.”

The winner of Fat Bear Week will be announced on Oct. 8. (Public domain photo by K. Stenberg/Katmai National Park and Preserve)

Last year’s infamous winner — a half-ton sow named Beadnose — hasn’t shown up around Brooks River this year, or as Boak puts it, “She has declined to participate.”

But Boak said other well-known contestants are looking promising. “We have a sow, 435 Holly, who looks like the Michelin Man. She has been nonstop snorkeling,” she said. “And she is huge. She is definitely a top contender.”

That’s not to say that Holly doesn’t have some weighty competition.

“Bear 480 Otis, who is perhaps our most famous bear. He’s won this competition twice,” Boak said. “He’s competitive. He is the hardest working bear on the Brooks River.”

Bear 480 Otis, “the hardest working bear on the Brooks River.” (Public domain photo by Naomi Boak/Katmai National Park and Preserve)

More so than Holly, you ask?

“I’d say more so than Holly,” Boak said, before correcting herself. “I mean, he’s … I don’t know. I’d say they’re equally diligent in their work of getting fat.”

Like always, the ultimate winner will be decided by popular opinion. But this year, rangers are bringing in scientists to find out who’s actually the fattest.

Joel Cusick is a geographic information system specialist with the National Park Service. He’s used to surveying parks buildings and archaeological sites.

But on an assignment in Katmai this summer, he thought, “Why not bears?”

Cusick’s scanner bounces laser beams off the bears to determine their volumes. The tricky part, he said, is finding one that will stay still long enough to get an accurate reading.

“A scanner has to pass by the bear several times, if not hundreds of times, and paint the bear with points of light,” he said. “It requires about 16 seconds to pull this off on a very fast scanner.”

How do you find out how fat a Brooks bear is? We did 3D scans. We’ll share our findings of the scans with you on Fat…

Posted by Katmai National Park & Preserve on Monday, September 30, 2019

With the help of bear biologists familiar with the animals’ body compositions, Cusick used the volume measurements to estimate weights. He’s not pretending that the findings are perfect, but his report said they’re accurate within about 50 pounds.

In any case, it’s far easier than the traditional method of darting a bear with a tranquilizer and stringing it up to clock its weight.

“The ideal situation (would be to) get this giant scale put out there, have the bear stand on the scale and scan them,” Cusick said. “That opportunity did not arise.”

This is the first season the park has done 3D bear scans, but Cusick said it could be used in the future to compare spring and fall weights — indicators of the bears’ overall health.

Cusick is sworn to secrecy on the weights of this year’s contenders until Tuesday, Oct. 8, when the winner of Fat Bear Week is announced.

Competition for food starts young in brown bears.

The possibility of winning the Fat Bear Week title has all the bears ready to compete. This time of year, no brown bear feels full … even the cubs! Spring cubs will spar with their siblings to get access to mom's milk so they too can bulk up. Reward all the bears' hard work by voting during Fat Bear Week, beginning October 2nd.How to participate in Fat Bear Week: This is a single elimination tournament to determine the 2019 fattest bear on the Brooks River. For each set of two bears, vote with your "likes" or “love” for the bear you think is the fattest. Likes (votes) will be considered final at 6:00 pm AKDT on the day of the post. The most liked bear advances. Only one will be crowned the 2019 Fat Bear Tuesday Champion!NPS Video/ N. Boak

Posted by Katmai National Park & Preserve on Tuesday, September 24, 2019

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