‘Fab­u­lous flab’ helps bear win ti­tle of Alaska’s fat­test

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By Karin Brul­liard

An Alaskan brown bear known as 409 Bead­nose had her hands full with two new cubs in the sum­mer of 2016. They re­mained at her side when she emerged from hi­ber­na­tion last year and set about fish­ing for sock­eye salmon in Kat­mai Na­tional Park and Pre­serve. In other words, Bead­nose was shar­ing the spoils.

Not this year. In the lingo of wildlife bi­ol­o­gists, she “eman­ci­pated” those cubs, and this spring she emerged from a long win­ter’s snooze a lithe empty-nester. Af­ter a sum­mer stuff­ing her maw with salmon that was just hers, Bead­nose has the blub­ber to show for it.

On Tues­day, that re­mark­able ex­pan­sion made 409 Bead­nose — a name that com­bines her of­fi­cial, park-as­signed num­ber and a moniker in­spired by her up­turned snout — the win­ner of Kat­mai’s fourth an­nual Fat Bear Week con­test. The bat­tle played out on Face­book, where pairs of pho­tos of bear bods, all reg­u­lars at the Brooks River buf­fet, were pit­ted side by side, and the win­ner of each round was the one with the most likes.

“Bears must eat one year’s worth of food in six short months to sur­vive hi­ber­na­tion, and 409 has ex­celled at that,” the park wrote in a

Face­book post an­nounc­ing her vic­tory over a beastly bruin named 747. “Her ra­di­ant rolls were deemed by the vot­ing pub­lic to be this year’s most fab­u­lous flab.”

It was a sec­ond vic­tory for Bead­nose, who took the tro­phy in 2015, the event’s first year as a con­test. Her many fans re­joiced. “We ladies needed the win! Yeah mama bear!” one Face­book com­menter wrote.

The con­test wasn’t to­tally fair, given that the pho­to­graphs, most taken by park staff, were not all shot from the same an­gle. Bead­nose, for ex­am­ple, was seated in her end-of-sum­mer por­trait in a girth-ac­cen­tu­at­ing po­si­tion that some ob­servers com­pared to a Her­shey’s Kiss, while other bears were shown stand­ing.

“The re­al­ity is, un­less we got all the bears to line up into a sin­gle file line on the same day, we’re not go­ing to have the ex­act same pho­tos,” said An­drew LaValle, a park ranger at Kat­mai. He joked that he would try, “but the bears haven’t re­sponded to my phone calls.”

They were prob­a­bly too busy on the small Brooks River, an up­stream bot­tle­neck for hun­dreds of thou­sands of the 62 mil­lion salmon that passed through Alaska’s Bris­tol Bay this year, LaValle said. There, the bears eas­ily snatch the fish, then promptly mas­sacre them for the fat­ti­est parts — the skin, fat and brain — be­fore non­cha­lantly dis­card­ing the flesh for which we hu­mans might pay up­ward of $30 a pound.


A fe­male brown bear known as 409 Bead­nose swelled over three months of de­vour­ing salmon in Kat­mai Na­tional Park and Pre­serve. She was voted the park’s fat­test bear.

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