The Fat Bear finals!

October 5, 2021 • 11:05 am

We’re down to the last two Fat Grizzlies, and today’s your day to vote for the Championship Porker. You can vote between noon and 9 p.m. Eastern U.S. time at this site (or click on the screenshot below). When this post appears, you can start voting (one vote per person). Each bear has survived three pairings to get to the finals.

The contenders are 480 (“Otis”), versus 151 (“Walker”)

WALKER (1000 lb) with the site’s biography below his before-and-after photos. He’s had a lot of salmon!


Walker is a large adult male. He has a long, tapering muzzle and widely spaced, upright ears. In early summer he has prominent dark eye-rings and in late summer his fur is dark brown.


Walker was first identified as an independent two-year-old in 2009. He’s a frequent user of Brooks Falls where he prefers to fish in the far pool and on the lip. Downstream, he is often found fishing in the riffles.

Walker remained a tolerant bear during his young adult years. He allowed other bears to approach him and sought sparring partners for prolonged play fights. However, his priorities have changed as he matured into a fully grown adult. Walker now ranks among the river’s largest bears and he’s become less tolerant of other bears, including some of his former playmates. With his increased body size and a more assertive disposition, Walker is a more dominant bear compared to his younger days. His actions demonstrate that the behavior of bears can vary considerably over their lifetimes. Walker was estimated to weigh about 1,000 pounds (454 kg) in September 2020, but appears to be larger this year.

OTIS, who’s older and has worn teeth. He seems to be the underbear, though he won the championship in 2016 and 2017. Despite his teeth, he’s clearly fattened up a lot (you can see his ribs in the first photo):


Otis is a medium-large adult male with a blocky muzzle and a floppy right ear. He has light brown fur in early summer. By autumn, his coat becomes grizzled brown and he sports a patch of blonder fur on his right shoulder.


Otis was four to six years old when he was first identified in 2001, and he’s now one of the older bears at Brooks River. As bears age, they experience a variety of challenges and Otis is no exception. In particular, he is missing two canine teeth and many of his other teeth are greatly worn. Otis must also compete with younger and larger bears who want access to his fishing spots. Otis is more likely to be displaced by these bears than he is to displace them.

Still, he recognizes that patience is a successful strategy. Otis rarely makes an effort to chase salmon like younger, more energetic bears. Once access to his preferred fishing spots becomes available, he takes advantage of the opportunity while expending little energy. While Otis occasionally appears to be napping or not paying attention, most of the time he’s focused on the water, and he experiences a relatively high salmon catch rate as a result.

Otis returned to Brooks River later than usual in 2021. Yet, he quickly made up for lost time by utilizing his patience and mastery of fishing. He was the inaugural Fat Bear Tuesday champion in 2014 and Fat Bear Week champion in 2016 and 2017.

I’m for Otis, as he’s overcome physical issues to fatten up nicely. Plus he’s a Senior Bear!

Now how do they estimate the bear’s weight? Reader Laurie sent me this link from CNN (click on screenshot) that tells you how they estimate weights by using laser photography (“lidar”):


An excerpt:

[Joel] Cusick, who works for the National Park Service’s Alaska regional office, creates maps and trains people on GPS and the use of scanners in the field. He typically uses a laser scanner — specifically, a terrestrial lidar scanner — to measure the volume of stationary objects in the park like buildings and gravel piles. It’s a $70,000 industrial-grade tool that sits on a hefty tripod. That evening, Cusick aimed it at Otis, and took a scan.

Lidar is short for “light detecting and ranging” and is probably best known for its use in autonomous vehicles. A lidar scanner sends out millions of pulses of infrared light and measures how long it takes for them to return after hitting an object, such as Otis. These measurements form a point cloud that can then be used to build a three-dimensional map of the object.

In a matter of seconds, Cusick could see what looked like pinpoints comprising Otis’s rear on a tablet linked to the scanner. Computer software later processed the scan, creating a 3-D model that could be used to determine the width of the bear’s behind.

After making the model they can then estimate the bear’s weight from its dimensions (which yield a volume), and the assumption that a bear is 60% water and 40% fat.  Here’s one such scan of contender Walker:

But remember, you’re voting on the basis of the photos, not on the weights, which aren’t even given for some bears.

h/t: Laurie

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