November 19, 2019

Bittersweet Big Fat Bear Week

“Every October for the past five years, Fat Bear Week has showcased some of the healthiest, hungriest, and chonkiest bears in Katmai National Park and Preserve, a four-million-acre expanse of wilderness in southern Alaska.

All summer, bear enthusiasts watch the coastal brown bears splash through Brooks River and feast on ruby-red sockeye salmon. Every fall the bears grow impossibly fat—some doubling in size. It’s crucial preparation for winter hibernation, which bears survive by burning through a third of their body mass. During Fat Bear Week, viewers fill out brackets and vote on the chubbiest bears until the final showdown, when one ursine champion is crowned the fattest of them all.

But this summer, viewers saw some unusual activity on the webcams. Sometimes the bears stopped feasting, and simply wallowed in the water.

That’s because record-high temperatures scorched the entire state of Alaska this summer. Even the water the bears cooled off in hit nearly 90 degrees on some days. The sockeye salmon didn’t swim through the sweltering water, likely staying in a cooler lake downstream while the heat lasted. “It’s not just like, it was hot and we broke a few records,” Mike Fitz told me. “Never-before-seen temperatures happened in Bristol Bay.””

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