After a summer of opulence and excess comes the lean season, the long dark winter, when resources must be amassed and stretched. Nobody knows it better than the big bear Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska.
After a few months of plucking thousands of salmon from sparkling rivers and making snacks made from berries, herbs, and small mammals, the Alaskan brown bears have now just about double their body weight in preparation for the long sleep of hibernation. The bigger the bear, the better the chances of surviving the harsh Alaskan winters, which last from around October to March. Important, yes. But the bigger the bear, the better its chances of winning a prize of equal or greater value for its own survival: being crowned the winner of Fat Bear Week by a community of big bear admirers who are among the healthiest places on the internet.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when humans first began to like big bears, but rangers at Katmai Park began to notice the intense interest in the pound’s wrapping. Ursus arctos generated around 2014, when they started printing before and after photos of some of the more than 2,000 bears that roam the park so that visitors can vote for who will be crowned the biggest. As the popularity and fame of the contest grew, it eventually expanded to its current digital format, which allows anyone with an internet connection to vote for the beefiest bear in a tournament. direct elimination. This year’s tournament started last week (with the addition of Big Bear Junior), and Fat Bear Week ends on the last day of the contest—Tuesday big bear—When a winner is crowned “the biggest bear” in the Brooks River.
Humans’ intense love for beefy bears has spawned a loving and dedicated community of internet fans who come together on the explore.org Facebook page, a non-profit group that maintains multiple natural cameras live. brown bears from Brooks Falls. Pushing this subculture to try and better understand what exactly it is about the bears that keep humans so fascinated collects some kindly obvious answers, like trying to ask someone to describe why they smile when they are in the mountains. Russian or love the taste of the cake.
“When I look at the bears, I find myself in a quiet place. It’s incredibly beautiful and peaceful, ”said one woman, Secret Meier, via Facebook Messenger. “I laugh as I look at Otis, who is much older, as he sits in what I affectionately call his office. He waits for the salmon to jump close to his face and he falls asleep in the water when he is not eating. His antics make me laugh out loud. I call Otis “my main man”. He is definitely a favorite. (Otis reached the semi-finals, and the vote is still open if you want to support Meier’s main man.)
Tricia Kubicek, a teacher based near West Des Moines, Iowa, described watching round bears on live cameras the same way someone might talk about watching John Candy fall.
“Bears are really funny, especially when you watch them trip over the falls or swim below the surface,” she said. “Laughter is really the best medicine. “
Humans also experience the ordeal of a long, dark winter, both real and metaphorical. In the real world, the days are getting shorter, with darkness encroaching on your office window at 4 p.m. It is enough to wish that there was a way to store the sun’s rays in our subcutaneous tissue. Metaphorically, too, this moment can feel like a harsh winter, in large part because of the pandemic in progress showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
In this regard, bears at the height of overweight are reminiscent of all that is right in the beautiful days of summer. Their waddles, their often languid demeanor, the way their bellies can touch the ground, the community gathering at Brooks River Falls. These are scenes of abundance, those to which the big barophiles want to hang on.
In a Facebook post, Kubicek said she first encountered the big bears after a fellow teacher added a link to one of the live cameras in a virtual appeasement room – a resource the teachers at her school had it in place for students to help them cope with pandemic anxiety with things like relaxing music and mindfulness techniques. She almost immediately became addicted to observing their bear antics, closely observing how bears interacted with each other and studying their personalities from thousands of miles away.
“It seemed like everyone was facing difficult situations during the pandemic, and it was a way to relax and stay connected to each other,” Kubicek said. “Our human world is so complex and often polarizing, but bears are a symbol of interdependence.”
Kubicek isn’t the only one to discover that bear watching was an escape from a pandemic that forced people to isolate themselves from their own communities just when the urge to seek companionship could have been overwhelming. . Kelly Arl, a teacher at a public school in St. Louis, Missouri, said that after two years of what she described as a “real trash whirlwind,” bear watching – and getting carried away by the excitement of their fans online – gave her something to focus on apart from her stress and responsibilities related to covid-19.
“Between the complete closure of schools, the virtual creation of the school, the simultaneous management of online and virtual students, and maintaining the operation of the school with very strict health guidelines, my whole life since March 2020 has been heartbreaking, and the exhaustion is very real, ”said Arl. “I’m starting to feel like I can finally catch my breath, and having Fat Bear Week to focus on and get excited about during those breaths is a real joy.”
“It must be what people who care about sport feel when their team advances to a championship,” she added.
On any given day, explore.org’s live cameras can catch Katmai bears eating a fish with their young, swimming in waist-deep water, or walking with their newly acquired pudge, causing bear stuff. On a recent stream, this year’s contest finalist Otis fan favorite was captured stoically fishing as a snowstorm swirled around him.
As the bears of Katmai National Park and Preserve thrive, their cousins further north, the polar bears, have become the star children of the deleterious effects of climate change. A Arctic which is heating up quickly and oil and gas development make it practically impossible to stabilize their numbers. It’s also a reason people love Fat Bear Week: It relieves the deluge of Bad Climate News that so often haunts us, and an opportunity to connect with the natural world in a way that doesn’t involve face difficult facts. or fight against ecological despair.
“I think there is a lot to love about Fat Bear Week besides some adorably plump animals,” said Jana Arnold, 28, of Seward, Arkansas. “It’s a celebration of a healthy ecosystem, which is not there for many animals these days. As someone who loves the National Parks Service and is very aware of climate change, it means a lot to see a thriving ecosystem and big happy bears. “
Yet for some, loving big bears isn’t even something as noble as escaping work-induced unease or battling climate panic. Sometimes to see a big bear in all its glory – stand against the elements, with the biological certainty that darker days are ahead – is to see yourself.
“I’m Team Grazer because it reminds me of how I see myself,” said Kubicek. “I am a fierce mother bear who is ready to face the opposition of much greater forces if that means I am able to feed and care for my young.”
The Fat Bear Week winner will be announced on October 5 on the National Parks Service website website. You can check out Earther’s final ranking for Fat Bear Week 2021 here.