The struggle is real.
The wild bears of Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska — who are livestreamed on the explore.org webcams — have grown impressively fat this summer, ahead of their long, looming hibernation. The famous Brooks River, where the bears congregate, has teemed with the bears’ meal of choice: 4,500-calorie salmon.
One bear in particular, an adult male bear numbered 747 by Katmai biologists, has grown so large that the webcams caught the rotund animal having trouble walking up the riverbank (which the bears go up and down every day).
747, however, persevered.
Importantly, 747’s enlarged condition is a state the bears strive to achieve. It’s an impressive adaptation to survive Alaska’s long, callous winter famine, known as hibernation. While hibernating, bears burn through their fat stores, but lose little to no muscle. The more stored fat, the better odds of a bear’s survival.
This year, Katmai and Alaska’s greater Bristol Bay region have seen a prodigious salmon run, resulting in a glut of fish traveling up the region’s rivers.
“The bears right now are the beneficiary of tons of salmon,” Mike Fitz, the resident naturalist for explore.org and a former park ranger at Katmai, told Mashable in July. “The bears are extremely fat for this time of year.”
Katmai is a region where the bounty of nature can reach its full potential. When you see a bear as fat as 747, you’re witnessing the bonafide, untrammeled wild. There, the salmon have large swathes of protected land to breed and flourish. “These are intact ecosystems with very little human development,” Curry Cunningham, a fisheries ecologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who researches salmon runs in Bristol Bay, told Mashable in July.
Bear 747, like other Katmai bears, isn’t nearly done consuming salmon. The bears are still growing fatter. They’ll eat the remaining fish, many spawned out and dead or dying, for at least another month. In late September and early October, the park holds its annual Fat Bear Week contest, where the public votes on the fattest bear.
747 is a perennial front runner, but has never been crowned a champion. 2020, however, looks like it could be his year.