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Fat Bear Week Has Its Winner

It's 480 Otis, for the 4th time since 2014 in Alaska's Katmai National Park
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 7, 2021 7:11 AM CDT

(Newser) – It's "get ready for hibernation" time in Katmai National Park, which means it's cram your maw full of salmon if you're a bear to put on enough weight to get you through the winter. Which also means it's time for Fat Bear Week, the annual contest put on by the park and the Katmai Conservancy to see which of the ursine competitors chunked out the most and pulled in the most votes from fans. NPR announces this year's winner: 480 Otis, who chowed down on enough sustenance from the Brooks River to take home the grand prize for the fourth time since the contest started in 2014, per the park's website.

The competition, which the park calls "an annual celebration of success," stretches over seven days via a "March-Madness style bracket," culminating in "Fat Bear Tuesday," when the winner is crowned. The NPS explains that bears can lose up to a third of their body weight when they're holed up in the colder months, so making it through the winter means they have to have enough excess fat reserves to power their body—meaning it's a salmon feast from when the bears emerge in the spring up to when they get ready to hunker down again.

This year, 480 Otis had a worthy contender in 151 Walker, a bear several years his junior who simply didn't garner as much fan support. 480 Otis took home more than 51,000 votes, compared to 151 Walker's 44,000-plus, according to the Explore.org site that tallies the ballots. Per the older bear's bio—which also shows a side-by-side comparison of what he looked like in July and in mid-September—he drew the crowd's sympathy due to the various challenges he faces, and his perseverance. "In particular, he is missing two canine teeth and many of his other teeth are greatly worn," the site notes. "480 Otis must also compete with younger and larger bears who want access to his fishing spots."

What helped put 480 Otis, believed to be around 25 years old, over the top was his patient strategy—instead of chasing after salmon like younger bears, he instead finds a prime spot and sticks to it, turning his laser focus on the water "while expending little energy." At least one big name is impressed: Stephen Colbert gave a shoutout to 480 Otis on Wednesday's Late Show. "Damn!" Colbert exclaimed. "That bear's got a little extra Paddington!" (Read more bears stories.)

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