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