How Fat Bear Week Came to Rule Social Media

At one national park, employees decided to bear down and create an online sensation

Fat bears
People around the globe will weigh in on this year's Fat Bear competition.
Katmai Conservancy

For bears, autumn is a time to prepare for hibernation. That means eating a lot of food — as in, Robert De Niro bulking up for the end of Raging Bull levels of food, but cubed. And that means that, in autumn, there are a whole lot of fat bears roaming the woods of America. 

Turns out, there’s a substantial online interest in seeing bears that appear to have consumed, well, the entire body weight of another bear. 

For the last five years, the staff at Katmai National Park has held Fat Bear Week, in which brackets of overweight bears competes for the title. Sample commentary: “The name Chunk says it all. The Chunkster waddles his way up and down the river devouring every succulent salmon in sight. Which one of these big-bellied bruins will best his competitor?”

So how did Fat Bear Week capture the hearts and minds of people who wouldn’t normally embrace bears? At The Verge, Justine Calma explored how Fat Bear Week became an online phenomenon — and went behind the scenes of one of the most unbearably charming memes in recent memory. 

As it turns out, much of the intrigue and competition was already there in the world of bears. Naomi Boak of the Katmai Conservancy told The Verge that, “there are lots of soap operas and dramas and comedies. All these things happen over a season and over the years.” We sincerely hope this means that a fat bear version of Succession is in the works. 

This year, Calma notes, 3-D scanning technology means that the actual fattest bear can be determined. Science has added a new wrinkle to this competition — but the bears remain adorable, just as long as you maintain a responsible distance.

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