What is Fat Bear Week? A Q&A with Student Life Director Kristin McDermott

a brown bear gazes beyond the camera
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Could you give me a short summary of Fat Bear Week? 

Fat Bear Week is an annual competition held by the Katmai National Park up in Alaska (https://www.nps.gov/katm/learn/fat-bear-week.htm). Their nature preserve is home to a LOT of grizzly bears (#ABruinIsABear), and each fall they host a bracket where they pit the bears “against each other” and allow folks across the globe to vote for which bear they believe got the fattest in preparation for the winter hibernation.

The bears who make it to the bracket are the bears who return to a specific spot called Brooks Falls in the autumn, where Katmai has a live cam set up (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsLvnFQW_yM). Many of the bears have names, some only numbers.

Here at KCC, because #ABruinIsABear, we put out brackets to all students and staff who would like to take their guesses at the fattest bear at Katmai in a students v. staff competition for Bruin Pride & Bragging Rights on which group can most accurately pick. Brackets will be available next Wednesday (Oct. 4) at Student Life’s Office, at the front desk of our regional centers or online at www.kellogg.edu/studentlife. Fill out your bracket and turn into Student Life (either in person or over email) by 9 a.m. Thursday morning to join the fun!

How can a student celebrate Fat Bear Week at KCC?

Learn about the Bears! You can watch the LIVE BEAR CAM at https://explore.org/livecams/brown-bears/brown-bear-salmon-cam-brooks-falls or read bios of the bears at  https://explore.org/meet-the-bears. Right now they have info up about Fat Bear Week Junior, but it’ll swap over in short order.

Then just get silly! We smack talk each other about which bears we chose and why, maybe you can challenge your fave professor! We hang up submissions in the window of our student center and each day as the next round results come in, we use dry erase markers on the opposite side of the window to mark up each submission and tally points (1 point for first round correct choices, 2 points for second round, 3 points… you get it). Results are added up and averaged so students know how they’re faring against staff.

Students and staff, just like the rest of the world’s population, can vote each day by participating in a poll that will be posted at the fat bear week link (https://explore.org/fat-bear-week).

We’ll post updated scores each day on Student Life’s Instagram (@KelloggCCStudentLife) and we’ll have it posted on the window of Student Life for passerby. If you want to see how it went the last few years you can check out our Instagram story highlight reel for FBW.

What’s your favorite part of Fat Bear Week?

I love watching people get really fired up about it and championing their favorite bears.  Returning students and staff are already amping up in anticipation of their brackets. Plus, I love how much we learn about this population of Katmai Bears! For instance:

The bears used to get names. But people took that to mean the bears were friendly and got too comfortable approaching them, so only the oldest bears (Otis, Holly, Popeye) out there have people names. The rest have been assigned research numbers (but you can still have fun with the numbers, like last year’s winner, 747 aka the Bear-o-Plane or Bear-force-one).

This is purely a popularity contest. You’re voting on which bear LOOKS like it got the fattest. At no point will the park interfere with the bears and weigh them because they are bears and the park rangers like living.

Otis is the oldest bear at the falls and has the most wins since the competition started. He looks a little rough around the edges, but he’s smart and now instead of fighting for a spot at the top of the falls, he sits in the little pool where salmon who have already spawned go to die. He just picks ‘em off there instead of wasting energy hunting.

747 is the current reigning FBW champ and also the most dominant bear at the falls, shortly followed by 856. However, that doesn’t mean he’s going to win the contest.

Most of the bears have tapeworm. If you leave the live cam on for long enough you will almost certainly see someone stringing one along. It’s a great conversation starter.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’m #TeamOtis.