After a tense week of voting, the results are in: The title of Alaska’s fattest floof goes to bear 435, aka Holly, an immense yet beautiful blonde fuzzball. To be crowned the champion of Fat Bear Week 2019, Holly had to beat out some tough competition, from previous hot contender Chunk to fellow finalist and chubster Lefty. Holly’s winter look has previously been described as resembling “the shape and color of a toasted marshmallow”.
Each year, Katmai National Park and Preserve creates a knockout competition, with the public voting for the bears they deem to have ballooned the most in preparation for winter. There were some impressive round bois (and girls) in 2019’s competition, but they had nothing on Holly, who seems to have doubled in size, at least around the middle.
“She is fat. She is fabulous. She is 435 Holly,” Katmai National Park and Preserve wrote on Facebook. “All hail Holly whose healthy heft will help her hibernate until the spring. Long live the Queen of Corpulence!”
Holly is a super mom and has reared a number of cubs, even successfully raising one who suffered a bad limp early on in life. She even adopted and raised a lost cub that was not her own. Now an adult, this bear (503) also got involved in Fat Bear Week, but wasn’t portly enough to beat infamous chonk Grazer and got knocked out in the quarter-finals. Holly hasn’t raised any new cubs this year, so she’s been able to gorge herself on fatty salmon without having to share. And it really shows.
"It was very hard to get a good picture [of Holly] out of the water, because she was a submarine for the entire month," Katmai Conservancy Media Ranger Naomi Boak told NPR. "She did not stop fishing, except to dig a belly hole big enough for her to sleep in."
There’s good reason for the bears’ newfound curves, they must gain as much weight as possible to maximize their chances of surviving the winter months. It’s a common misconception that bears hibernate, when actually they do something slightly different. Their sleep is called a torpor – it’s similar to hibernation in that their heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature drop, and they can sleep for months at a time, but it is not nearly as extreme. The key difference is they can easily wake up, for example, if they’re in danger. Female bears can awake to give birth and return to their slumber afterward.
While the fatties of Katmai are the heroes we all need right now, there’s a serious side to Fat Bear Week too. The national park hopes to raise awareness of the bears and the impact that climate change is having on both them and other bears around the country. While Holly and her pals have transformed themselves into absolute units, the salmon they feed on turned up late this year due to drought. If they can’t get as much salmon as they used to, the bears won’t beef up quite so much, which in turn lowers their chances of surviving the chilly winter months.
Will 2020’s Fat Bear Week be blessed with such roly-poly fluffsters as this year? We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, you can keep an eye on the contenders with Katmai's Bear Cams.