Hail to the King! Bear 747 has won the annual #FatBearWeek competition hosted by Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. If you haven't been following along, Fat Bear Week is about body positivity and cele- brating these amazing animals. The more bulk they put on, the more likely they are to survive the long, cold months ahead. So always remember: a fat bear is a healthy bear! Every fall, Katmai National Park & Preserve in Alaska hosts Fat Bear Week. Fat Bear Week is an auspicious celebration where the park invites its online community to compare photos of bears fromwhen they first visit Brooks Falls in the spring to photos of the same bears at the end of summer. The differences are often huge. In just a few months, the bears have gorged on enough salmon to pack on some serious pounds. While Fat Bear Week is both fun and has gained a lot of attention, it also brings up really important questions about survival and how we’re studying and learning more about these amazing bears. How can I participate in Fat Bear Week? During Fat Bear Week, you can vote! Visit https://explore.org/fat-bear-week. Fat Bear Week is a single-elimination tournament that determines who will be crowned the fattest bear on the Brooks River. The bear with the most votes advances to the next round. By the end of the week, one well-fed ursine will receive the title of the fattest bear. Is this body shaming or body positivity? How is bulking up beneficial to bear survival? This week is about body positivity. A fat bear is a healthy bear! Fattening up as winter approaches is a matter of life and death for the bears: relying on stored fat for energy, they can lose up to a third of their body fat as they slow down for the winter. The more bulk they put on, the more likely they are to survive the long, cold months. And we think Cosmopolitan would agree that the bears look fabulous! How can they eat so much? What’s on the menu? The bears enter a medical state known as hyperphagia in which they eat non-stop and can gain up to four pounds in a single day. Some bears can eat dozens of sockeye salmon each day, with each salmon packing about 4,000 calories. A coastal brown bear’s diet during the summer consists primarily of salmon with the addition of sedge grasses and berries. The fat of the salmon is what allows for such tremen- dous weight gain in a limited window. The majority of the weight is put on in the late summer once bears enter hyperphagia. Leptin, the chemical that tells the body it’s full, is suppressed which allows for the bears to eat until it’s time to sleep. One bear was spotted eating 40 salmon in a single sitting. During this time the bears practice a technique called high grading. This is where they select the most calorie-dense parts of the fish to eat; such as the brain, skin and roe and leave the fillets behind. How are you measuring the bears? Terrestrial Lidar scanning technology is used almost exclusively in Civil Engineering fields to scan the interior of buildings, roads and gravel stockpiles to get volume measure- ments. Last year, as an experiment, it was used on bears at Katmai’s Brooks Camp! This was a challenge as the animals had to stay still and not move long enough to complete a scan. When the bears were standing at the top of the falls or in the river wafting to catch a fish, they were still enough that this technology worked well. This is an exciting new, non-invasive way to collect information on the bear’s volume—especially since weighing bears is not an option. Is there enough salmon? What’s the impact on available resources? The last few documented salmon runs have shown high numbers -- two years ago it reached a record-breaking 62.3 million. Right now, there are enough salmon to go around. The question is pointed toward the future. It’s difficult to know what kind of impacts the heat and weather patterns of this summer will have on future runs of salmon. The heat may have impacted egg survival, some streams may have dried before salmon had the opportunity to spawn. One summer may not tip the scales toward disarray, but if the heat and weather conditions continue into future years, it may be a different story. Bears between two and a half and five years old are known as sub-adults. They are independent of their mothers, but not yet sexually mature. Some sub-adults have been part of Fat Bear Week, showing off a dramatic transition to chubby cubby. Do bears really hibernate? It is a common misconception that bears hibernate during the winter. While bears tend to slow down during the winter, they are not true hibernators. Black bears, Grizzly bears and Brown bears do go into a deep sleep during the winter months, known as torpor. At times, they will wake up and move around their dens. When do the bears slow down for winter? The bears at Katmai National Park and Preserve will retreat to their dens to bed down for the winter in October or November. Bears south of Alaska usually enter their dens later and emerge sooner, but it all depends on winter conditions. They will stay there until the late spring, when they will emerge thin and hungry. If you really want to witness these impressive bears in person, it’s going to take some planning. Unlike most national parks in the United States, Katmai is almost exclusively accessed by plane or boat. All visitors to Brooks Camp are required to begin their stay by attending a brief bear safety talk outlining park regulation. Trails lead visitors to viewing platforms, where bear fans can watch the feast unfold. Bears are wonderful and interesting animals that command our attention and deserve our respect. Fat Bear Week is a celebration and a chance to learn more about our ursine friends. We hope you are looking forward to the next Fat Bear Week as much as we are. Beadnose 409 was the 2018 Fat Bear winner! Photo by A. Ramos, National Park Service.
14 The Millstone Times
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