Fat Bear Week is great — its fans are even better

Christy NaMee Eriksen found Fats Bear Week throughout her “Summer season of Bears.”

There have been bear sightings in her neighborhood in Juneau, Alaska, that summer season of 2020, together with one which took some chocolate from her storage. She didn’t thoughts. In March, she had misplaced her father, “who was a really larger-than-life form of man,” she says. The bear, in a approach, reminded her of her dad. “So I begin calling him Pop as a result of he was simply all the time round,” Eriksen tells The Verge. Later that yr, she adopted a canine who occurred to be named Bear. 

“It felt like a poetic invitation”

“After which I got here throughout Fats Bear Week, and I used to be like, ‘It’s my summer season of bears’ … it felt like a poetic invitation,” says Eriksen, a author. At the moment, she’s additionally a “Fats Bear Week correspondent” writing tales for the Anchorage Every day Information about this yr’s matchups. “[The Fat Bear Week website] boasted record-breaking participation and 747 Bear Power One simply flew previous [Bear] 856,” she wrote within the Every day Information yesterday, saying the winner of the primary matchup. “The plot thickens at present as among the largest booties of Brooks Falls come out to play.”

In a nutshell, Fats Bear Week is a March Insanity-style reputation contest for Katmai Nationwide Park’s now-famous brown bears. It obtained its begin in 2014 as a enjoyable solution to promote the park and its bears. Since then, the occasion has grown into one thing of a popular culture phenomenon. The annual bracket competitors culminates in a prime bear being topped on “Fats Bear Tuesday,” going down on October eleventh this yr. Devoted followers marketing campaign for his or her favourite bears, making their case by passionate pitches and marketing campaign posters in Fb Teams that keep energetic year-round. Fan-favorite bears even have their very own Fandom pages. 

Fats Bear Week 2022 bracket
Picture: Katmai Conservancy / Katmai Nationwide Park and Protect

The event is supposed to have fun wholesome, fats bears. They want the majority to get them by a winter of hibernation. The bears’ lovable lumps have helped a few of their loyal followers by powerful instances, too. In return, followers convey their love of bears with them offline to share with their households, at work, and even into a few of life’s largest milestones.  

Andrea Bacino, a kids’s librarian from Northglenn, Colorado, additionally found Fats Bear Week in 2020 whereas she and her household have been caught at residence throughout the pandemic. “I used to be working from residence and making an attempt to maintain the youngsters entertained,” says Bacino, a mother of three boys. She tuned into the “Bear Cam” reside stream of Katmai Nationwide Park. “Having the ability to watch nature on a reside digital camera, you’re feeling such as you’re touring somewhat bit. You additionally get somewhat little bit of the calm that comes from being within the woods.” 

A button with a photo of a large brown bear, Otis, that reads “OTIS FOR FBOTUS.”

A marketing campaign button Andrea Bacino made for Otis.
Picture: Andrea Bacino

By 2021, Bacino was a full-blown Fats Bear fan campaigning for her favourite behemoth that yr, Otis. She made marketing campaign buttons on the library for him. “OTIS FOR FBOTUS,” the buttons learn, with FBOTUS standing for “Fattest Bear of the US.” For the previous couple years, she’s created a Fats Bear Week “expertise zone” on the Anythink library, the place she’s the youth companies information. It’s obtained one laptop computer arrange for watching Katmai’s livestream of Brooks Falls, the place the brown bears come to chow down on salmon. There’s one other laptop computer for voting, some printed-out details about why it’s so essential for the bears to plump up, and marketing campaign posters for among the prime contenders. That features Otis, a four-time champion whose poster this yr reads, “an eater you may belief.” 

When Otis gained the event final yr, Bacino baked bear cookies to have fun. “I can’t say they got here out trying very bear-shaped,” Bacino says. “They positively seemed chunky.”

“I can’t say they got here out trying very bear-shaped… They positively seemed chunky.”

“I do love Otis,” Bacino says. However this yr, she hasn’t fairly made up her thoughts about who she’s rooting for essentially the most. “Additionally, you understand, I establish with the mama bears who’re elevating cubs,” she tells The Verge

Her oldest son is seven, and after the competitors involves a detailed, she’ll hold the Fats Bear Week dialog going with him all through the remainder of October and into early November. “It provides me somewhat little bit of a chance to speak to him about, ‘Oh, there’s nonetheless bears out, and so they haven’t all hibernated but’ — having somewhat little bit of that dialog about local weather change, it’s staying hotter later within the yr.” It’s somewhat lesson in trigger and impact, she hopes. “What we do impacts the water, and that modifications the fish, and that modifications the bears,” she says.

Eriksen is campaigning for one in every of Katmai’s most well-known mama bears this yr, Holly. Holly’s had a number of litters through the years, and her most up-to-date cub went off by itself this spring. That left Holly free to reside “a bachelorette’s life this summer season [that] afforded her the chance to focus on her personal wants,” Holly’s official biography for Fats Bear Week reads.   

However right here’s a professional tip: among the bears’ finest descriptions come from followers. Jo Ely, a college social employee in St. Louis, Missouri, wrote a track for Holly final yr to the tune of Abba’s “Dancing Queen.”

Ely’s model of the track goes: “She will fish / She will combat / Having the time of her life / Oooo, see that bear / Watch that scene / Diggin the fats bear queen.” Holly was a champion in 2019 and is trying like a powerful contender once more this yr. 

Ely says she obtained her penchant for writing parodies from her older brother, who she remembers listening to “Bizarre Al” Yankovic whereas they have been rising up. When her brother officiated her wedding ceremony in 2020, he integrated Jo’s love of fats bears into the ceremony — acknowledging Ely’s husband for supporting her “when she’s rooting for fats bears on the web.”

Ely gained a Fats Bear Week bracket competitors as a part of a Fb Group for followers final yr. The winner obtained to decide on which charity would obtain the cash earned from the $10 buy-in to take part within the competitors. Ely selected Katmai Conservancy, the nonprofit group that companions with Katmai Nationwide Park and Protect and on-line portal Discover.org to place Fats Bear Week collectively. 

This yr, the Fb Group has gotten too large to carry the charity bracket. It at present has 27.7 thousand members. Nevertheless it nonetheless has that group feeling, members inform The Verge. And a few followers have taken it upon themselves to proceed the custom by beginning their very own brackets. Eriksen’s obtained a small charity bracket moving into Alaska. She’s requested for $10 to $100 donations to purchase in, and the cash will go towards shopping for native salmon that shall be given to a neighborhood homeless shelter.

Philanthropy apart, Eriksen has no qualms about utilizing her writing for the Anchorage Every day Information to marketing campaign for Holly this yr. “I don’t wish to unfairly sway of us (cough, 435 Holly) however I’d like to see (cough, 435 Holly) a few of these fabulous fats females (cough, cough, 435 Holly) discover their solution to the crown, for instance 435 Holly,” she wrote earlier this week. 

“I don’t decide on the rubric by fatness alone. For me, it’s that predominant character vitality that I’m actually on the lookout for. What’s their fats story? Holly has a really fats story round motherhood and care,” Eriksen tells The Verge. Holly adopted an deserted cub again in 2014 and raised it alongside her different cubs. That has particular that means for Eriksen, she says, who’s not solely a mother herself however has additionally written about being a Korean adoptee. “As we view the bears and as we inform their tales, I feel it says quite a bit about who we’re,” Eriksen says. “What we care about and worth and vote on metaphorically.” 

You possibly can vote in Fats Bear Week every day till October eleventh at https://discover.org/fat-bear-week.

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