What Is Fat Bear Week and Should You Care About It?

The viral brown bear bracket also brings much-needed attention to wildlife conservation

A large coastal brown bear in Alaska walks across a tidal delta. Happy Fat Bear Week.
Happy Fat Bear Week! Wait, what is Fat Bear Week?
Jared Lloyd via Getty

Listen, the world is hard sometimes. But one week a year, there’s peace. There’s happiness. There are fat bears. 

Fat Bear Week is, well, exactly what it sounds like: a March Madness-style showdown where the public votes on their favorite brown bears in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska before they hibernate. The event, which got its start in 2014, has now become something of an annual viral sensation. There’s even a Fat Bear Junior, where bear cubs have their own bracket, with the chance to move into the main competition. 

While being especially cute, Fat Bear Week is also a valuable way to bring attention to preservation efforts and wildlife conservation. Katmai holds conversations about the parks ecosystem and bears throughout the week, which runs through October 11, as well as encouraging questions from voters.

Katmai, as well as Alaska generally, is in a precarious position with regards to climate change. In the last 60 years, Alaska has warmed more than twice as fast as the rest of the United States, causing permafrost thaw. Wildfires, coastal erosion and melting glacier ice are all contributing to changes in the ecosystems of the state’s animals, like brown bears. While Fat Bear Week is a friendly online competition we can all rally around, and a way to drive attention to the National Park Service, it’s also a way to push for change and climate action sooner rather than later. We deserve Fat Bear Week in perpetuity, and we need a stable environment for that to be the case.  

Find a full list of the Fat Bear competitors here. We’re rooting for Walker.

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