2021’s Best Fat Bears, Ranked

2021’s Best Fat Bears, Ranked
132's spring cub. (Photo: National Park Service/Explore.org)

The most wonderful time of the year is back, baby. On Wednesday, the U.S. National Park Service will kick off its annual Fat Bear Week competition.

The agency whetted our appetite for ursa chonkus with Fat Bear Junior Week, but now the most rotund bears of the Brooks River are ready to battle it out. The contest is held each year to honour bears who have gorged on sockeye salmon and other delicacies in preparation for hibernation. Katmai National Park and Preserve coupled with explore.org let the people vote on a dozen of the portliest bears in a bracket-style tournament. Last year, more than 600,000 voted on the bracket.

The bear brackets have been set. The tourney starts tomorrow. Yes, all fat bears are good. But some fat bears are the best. Here’s who I think should be in the top five this year, based on cuteness, charisma, and, most importantly, fatness. This is a definitive and highly rigorous ranking. If you would like to win your, what I can imagine, very competitive office pool, take heed of this vital resource.

#5: 747

Photo: National Park Service/Explore.org Photo: National Park Service/Explore.org

In my number five spot is the big, beautiful bear known as 747. He was crowned the winner of last year’s Fat Bear Week contest, and you can see why. In September 2020, scientists estimated he weighed more than 1,400 pounds (636 kilograms). This year, the NPS said he’s at least that big, if not bigger.

What makes 747 an ur fat bear is that his fatness makes him the leader of his brown bear pack. “Although dominant bears can maintain their rank in the hierarchy through aggression, 747 typically keeps his status by sheer size alone,” according to explore.org. That’s true fat king behaviour.

On the other hand, 747 already had his time in the spotlight. Repeating as king of Fat Bear Week would be impressive, so he’s in my top five. But my number one bear, he is not.

#4: 634 Popeye

Photo: National Park Service/Explore.org Photo: National Park Service/Explore.org

634 Popeye is absolutely huge, and he looks even bigger because of his deep chocolatey fur and the prominent shoulder hump. He also has thick, furry legs, which is how he got his nickname. It’s unclear if he has any sailor tats, but I definitely be down to cast him in an all-bear remake of Popeye.

The National Park Service calls him an “archetypal” brown bear. I’d agree and also call him an archetypal fat bear. He’s a mighty fine contestant for sure. But in some ways, he’s too obvious and safe a choice. Who wants to see the top seed go all the way? Give me some danger!

#3: 32 Chunk

Photo: National Park Service/Explore.org Photo: National Park Service/Explore.org

Chunk had a real glow-up. Back in the summer, his rich brown coat came in patchy, giving him a mangy look and showing his scars, including a large one across his muzzle. (There’s that danger I was looking for). Now, he looks healthy, robust, and freaking giant. What a success story. He’s living up to his nickname.

32 Chunk is somewhat known for his big, round bear butt, which give him an obvious leg — or butt — up. He was also runner-up to 747 in last year’s Fat Bear Week, so it would be nice to see him finally get some time in the spotlight. But frankly, he’s not my top bear. Sorry, Chunk. The glow-up is great, but it’s just not enough to top Earther’s definitive Fat Bear Week rankings.

#2: 128 Grazer

Photo: National Park Service/Explore.org Photo: National Park Service/Explore.org

To see 128 Grazer’s magic, you’ve got to see her transformation. In late July, she looked thin and scrappy with a thin, straight muzzle like Baloo from The Jungle Book. Now, she looks like a tank. Colour me impressed that a bear named Grazer can get to this level of girth.

Very good fat bear with a real propensity for heft. Also, she’s a female bear. Girl power. But girl power alone is not enough to put her over the top.

#1: 132’s Spring Cub

Photo: National Park Service/Explore.org Photo: National Park Service/Explore.org

I am preemptively crowning 132’s Spring Cub as Fat Bear Week king. He’s a bit of a dark horse, but there’s no doubt in my mind he can go all the way — and that he deserves it.

132’s spring cub is a young bear who earned his position in the bracket by winning last week’s first-ever Fat Bear Junior competition, beating out other formidably furry contestants. The runner up was the daughter of 128 Grazer, the bear in my number four spot, which should give some idea of the pedigree he had to beat that get to the big boys and girls bracket. It’s clear he’s meant to be here.

Here at Earther, we’re also on the side of the kids. If you believe the children are the future, you’ll vote this cub up to the winning spot.

But this isn’t just a sympathy ranking to put 132’s speing cub as the best fat bear. Again, this is a very scientific review. This cub deserves to win based on fatness alone. Look at that floppy belly! Look at his sheer heft! Imagine that waddle! This bear may weigh less than the other competitors, but there is no better embodiment of the Fat Bear Ideal than 132’s spring cub. That’s why I’m expecting him to go to the top of the board and take it home in his first year of competition.