Fat Bottomed Bears, You Make the Rockin' World Go Round

Behold: a majestic, body-positive queen.

She slays; she knows it; she’s eaten roughly 17,568,000 calories in salmon alone over the last six months. Your fattest bear could never.

It's been a week since 409 Beadnose, the physiological phenomenon above, was crowned Katmai National Forest's Fattest Bear, and therefore a full week since I’ve been able to stop thinking about fat bears and how important it is that we celebrate them for doing their very important job of getting nice and fat every summer. And I would be remiss, even a week after the fact, if I did not make sure that every TATBT reader knows...

There's an annual Fattest Bear Contest??? All about fat bears — the fatter, the better!!! And we're not talking, Does this tree make my backside look fat, has this role of Charmin always looked so small in my hand fat. No, we are talking salmon-gorged, stole every picnic basket in Alaska, gonna-need-a bigger-forest FAT.

These bears are doing fat all by themselves, and most importantly, they're doing it for their health. Bears need to eat one year's worth of food within a six-month period of time in order to survive hibernation, wherein they will lie completely still underneath a weighted anxiety blanket, re-watching every single Netflix original series, even House of Cards, but they're only doing that one so they can really ruminate on how much Kevin Spacey sucks, and how that accent is a travesty, even an Alaskan bear knows that…

Anyway, these fat bears are just doing their job as bears who need to get fat, the same way I'm just trying to become a better businesswoman when I eat three fun-size Snickers a day at my coworking space. The tiny Snickers are free, and so are the 62 million sockeye salmon that migrate through Katmai's Bristol Bay to make these fat bears' 96,000-ish calorie-per-day diet possible. 

To honor the bears' hard work, Katmai National Park — a government-funded icon if ever there was one — hosts March Madness style bracket of their park's very fattest bears every October, just before they go into hibernation. The tradition began with Fat Bear Tuesday (a holiday I will now honor annually by eating enough lean protein to gain 500 pounds and go to sleep for six months) and it eventually evolved into an entire week of pitting rolls against rolls, hindquarters against hindquarters, and 409 Beadnose… against 480 Otis.

Otis is a very fat bear and reigning champion of Kamai National Park. He's won two out of the last three Fat Bear Weeks, so as you can see, that got him a bye-in to Round 2 of Fat Bear Week 2018. [Ed. note: Bye-in?? Am I using that right? This is not a sports newsletter. It is, and always has been, a fat bear newsletter.]

As you can see in the bracket, 409 Beadnose received no such advantage. She first had to take on 151 Walker: my namesake, and presumably a lover of both Snickers and salmon.

Walker got real plump this summer, and we’re all so proud of him. He’s such a good fat bar. But he is also on the younger side, so with some growing left to do, he never stood much of a chance against Buxom Queen Beadnose herself. Her bracket match-up for Round 2 therefore raises a few questions…

480 Otis.

Allegedly pregnant during competition week, and visually the size of a walk-in refrigerator by any rough estimate, 409 Beadnose was always destined to beat 151 Walker and advance into Round 2 where 480 Otis would be waiting for her thanks to his bye-in.

That’s a quite an early face-off for two such worthy contenders, leading this novice Fat Bear spectator to conclude not that Katmai was trying to oust its reigning champ early… but that 409 Beadnose was vastly underestimated despite her, well, general vastness. With three Fat Bear Week wins under his belly rolls, a rugged scar over his left eye, and as one of the oldest bears in Katmai National Park known for a singular-salmon-eating focus, 480 Otis is an imposing force, no doubt.

But 409 Beadnose has mothered four litters of cubs; and while rearing so many small, fat bears sometimes meant sacrificing her own pound-packing in the past, Beadnose is now an empty-nester, and this year, she proved herself capable of sitting on the competition. Even 480 Otis.

854 Divot though, is a miiiighty chunk-a-chunk-a chubby bear and a mother-in-recover just like 409 Beadnose. And with a harrowing bear backstory to boot: in 2015, Divot’s neck got trapped in a wolf snare, and park rangers had to tranquilize her to get her out and save her life.

When her décolletage is a little less, ahem, bountiful, 854 Divot has a gnarly scar as a reminder of her resilience. But she shall have to resile a little more because 409 Beadnose has both the size and aesthetic allure of an Airstream renovated by rich hipsters, taking her competition out handily in Round 3.

And finally, it comes down to this: an opponent so worthy, he doesn’t need a name. He is simply: bear 747

[Ed. note: It DOES seem like Boeing might be a natural leap to make for next year.]

When the competition gets tough, the haters get going, and it was no different in the final round of Fat Bear Week 2018. One Facebook voter accused Katmai Nation Park of unfair picture practices, alleging that 747’s official Fat Week photo was a month older than 409 Beadnose’s. This could very well be true, but I ask this Facebook user:

Is Beadnose not perfectly circular in her photo? Are her thighs not the very squishiest on bear or human record? Does her tongue not stick out ever so slightly as if salivating for one last dozen 48,000-calorie salmon feeding before she falls asleep for half a year? What photo, taken at any given time, of any given fat bear, could ever hope to match the spherical wonder of 409 Beadnose’s portraiture?

I do not mean to disparage 747, a noted alpha bear (terminology that’s actually fine when it comes to bears) who did a very commendable job of getting fat for the winter. But what is to be gained from a Fat Bear Week winner who is so consistently large and imposing that he’s rarely challenged for the best fishing spots? How do we grow as a nation of Fat Bear lovers if we only glorify the Fat Bears who were destined to be the fattest Fat Bears from birth?

And why does 409 Beadnose’s transformation from a bear frazzled by constant caring for others, into the embodiment of a self-nurtured, body-positive butterball ready to sleep for six months without fear of atrophy or starvation make me want to weep?

The tenacity; the dedication; the devotion to stuffing salmon brains into one’s bear-gullet it must take to go from frail mama bear to THE WINNER OF FAT BEAR WEEK 2018.

Rumors have swirled that 409 Beadnose was actually pregnant during Fat Bear Week (for the record, bears have delayed implantation, so this wouldn’t have given Beadnose a leg-up, and also, she probably couldn’t lift her leg up even if she wanted to). Which means, when she comes out of hibernation, it might be back to cub-rearing and fat-sacrificing, and years before she could be a contender for Fat Bear Week again…

Because we can’t be our best selves all of the time — sometimes life gets in the way. Fat bears cannot always be fat. They can just do their best, and this year, 409 Beadnose’s best was the very fattest of all. And what was her prize for such an honor as Fattest Bear 2018? “Stronger chances of living through the winter,” reported Katmai National Park.

That’s got to feel good to a fat bear.

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