It’s Fat Bear Week!

October 3, 2023 • 10:20 am

Speaking of bears, Fat Bear Week at Katmai National Park in Alaska begins tomorrow and runs through October 10, when the Champion Fat Bear will be declared. You can go to the main site by clicking on the first screenshot below. The voting starts tomorrow with two matchups, and then two more on Wednesday. After that the matchups will be determined by the earlier winners. (There’s apparently been some preliminary voting, as you can see below, perhaps by the rangers). Each day you can vote for at least one of the bears in a pairwise matchup, and tomorrow there are two.

A summary:

Choose the fattest bear of the year! Some of the largest brown bears on Earth make their home at Brooks River in Katmai National Park, Alaska. Brown bears get fat to survive and Fat Bear Week is an annual tournament celebrating their success in preparation for winter hibernation.

Fat Bear Week 2023 is October 4 – October 10. Your vote decides who is the fattest of the fat. Matchups will be open for voting between 12 – 9  p.m. Eastern (9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Pacific). Download your bracket to predict your own fat bear winner.

This is a single elimination tournament. For each match-up, vote for the bear you believe best exemplifies fatness. The bear with the most votes advances to the next round. Only one will be crowned champion of Fat Bear Week. Learn more about the history of Fat Bear Week.

The overview (click to read):

You can meet and learn about all the contestant bears here.

Here’s the schedule:

And here are the first two matchups. Go to this site and vote (starting tomorrow) by clicking on your favorite Fat Bar in each pair.  Spring Cub, a youngster, had a rough life




This is a pudgy 3.5-year-old subadult bear. Bear 428 has blond ears and grizzled, light brown fur.  She is difficult to differentiate from her same-aged sister, 429.


Bear 428 is the offspring of 128 Grazer, a perennial presence at Brooks River. As a dominant mother bear, Grazer provided her cubs with consistent access to productive fishing spots at Brooks Falls. As a yearling and 2.5-year-old cub, 428 followed her mother’s lead. She took to the lip of the falls to practice fishing in a location that many bears compete for and that younger bears are often displaced from by larger bears.

As an independent bear in 2023, she navigated the river without mother’s guidance for the first time. Easy access to the lip of the falls and other productive fishing spots were no longer something she could count on. She navigated these new challenges by utilizing opportunity as it came even if opportunity came inconsistently.


806 Spring Cub


This male first-year cub has long, shaggy brown fur and a short, pointed muzzle.


There are perils and advantages of fishing near Brooks Falls. Many mother bears with young cubs shy away from the vicinity of the waterfall, but 806 did not avoid this area in 2023. She knew that Brooks Falls provides bears with their very first opportunities to fish for salmon in early summer. Coming so close to other bears at the falls, however, increased the risk to her cub’s safety.

In his efforts to remain safe, 806’s spring cub attempted to stay close to mom even if that meant entering the swift and cold river. On several occasions, he was swept downstream or over the waterfall. In a notable event in late July, his mother fell off the falls as she caught a fish, which left the cub alone momentarily. A nearby adult male then pursued and attacked the cub. Thankfully, 806 was able to return and successfully defend her offspring. Mother and cub returned frequently to the falls afterward and throughout August. With salmon abundant in mid-summer, 806’s cub grew rapidly. His story showcases the risk and reward that bears find at Brooks Falls.

Again, you can read about all these bears here.  Read about them before you vote!




Bear 402 is a large adult female. She has medium brown fur, tan-colored claws, and crescent or apostrophe-shaped ears when viewed from front or back. During years when she is not caring for cubs, she is also quite fat in late summer and fall.


Few bears can rival 402’s maternal experience. She is the mother of at least eight litters, more than any other bear currently at Brooks River. This includes two litters of four cubs apiece. While 402 has weaned many cubs, some of which still visit Brooks River, she’s also experienced the loss of entire litters. When a mother bear loses her litter in spring or early summer, it can trigger her to become receptive to mating once again. This explains why 402 bore litters in back-to-back years such as 2007 and 2008.

Although female bears need ample fat reserves to support gestation, birth, and milk production in the den, fat is only part of the equation for maternal success. Cubs are ravenous and mothers must provision them with milk and other foods during their active seasons. Bear 402 is a skilled angler especially on the lip of Brooks Falls and often brings her cubs there. She is also an efficient scavenger of dead and dying salmon in the lower Brooks River. Even experienced mother bears experience loss, though. One of the cubs from her most recent litter disappeared in 2022. This summer, she continues to care for her single yearling. Her life illustrates the triumphs and difficulties of a long-lived mother bear.




This is a medium-sized adult female. Bear 901 has blond-rimmed, triangular ears. Her fur is golden brown in early summer and grizzled-brown in late summer.


Bear 901 was first identified as a 2.5-year-old in 2018. At the end of Fat Bear Week 2022, with 901’s body fat providing the buoyancy that raised her to the final match, many people wondered if 901 would return to Brooks River with cubs in 2023. The answer came in early summer when she arrived with three spring cubs. Bear cubs are born in mid-winter while mom hibernates. Female bears with too little body fat at the start of hibernation are unlikely to give birth, so 901’s savings account of ample body fat last year positively influenced her reproductive success.

With a family to care for, 901 expressed caution throughout much of the summer. She most often used the river mouth area where fewer bears are present instead of making frequent trips to Brooks Falls, likely to provide her cubs with more safety. In mid-September, though, one of her cubs disappeared while 901 fished in the lower Brooks River. Raising cubs is difficult for mother bears, and first-time mothers are particularly challenged to provision the family with food while keeping them safe.

I’m plumping (excuse the pun) for 806 Spring Cub, because he had it rough when he was young, and for 901, who had to take care of three babies and lost one of them.

Saturday: Hili dialogue

November 26, 2022 • 6:45 am

We’re at Thanksgiving CatSaturday: November 26, 2022: National Cake Day. My favorites in the genre are carrot cake with cream-cheese frosting and pineapple upside-down cake.

Recipe here. Decorative carrots on icing not necessary.

It’s also Good Grief Day, celebrating the creator of “Peanuts”, Charles Schulz, born on this day in 1922, and Small Business Saturday. And that’s it: a thin day for celebrations.

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the November 26 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*The BBC reports that a letter by Charles Darwin, signed with his full signature, is going on auction at Sotheby’s, and is projected to go for at least a million British pounds (the previous record for a Darwin letter was £400,000). The high value is because the letter (a bit shown below) is in pristine condition, because it’s signed with Darwin’s full name, which is rare, and because it defends his theory of evolution. (h/t: Christopher)

Here it is, signed by “Charles Darwin” (he usually used “C. Darwin” or “Ch Darwin”):

From the BBC:

. . . The item is likely to fetch more than £1m – a world-record price for a Darwin manuscript.

He’d produced the document so it could be copied in what, in 1865, was a celebrity magazine.

Darwin didn’t make a habit of archiving his paperwork and so little original material survives.

. . .Prof John van Wyhe, who curates the scholarly collection known as Darwin Online, says it’s extra special because of what the great man had chosen to put on the page along with his signature.

“He includes a passage that appears in the third edition of On the Origin of Species,” the senior lecturer at the National University of Singapore explained.

“It’s a really favourite passage, because he’s trying to make the point that people might find his theory unbelievable and outlandish, but they said the same about Newton and gravity, and nobody doubted the existence of gravity anymore.

“The same, he says, would be true eventually with evolution and natural selection,” the prof told BBC News.

The document was produced for The Autographic Mirror.

Its publisher, Hermann Kindt, printed facsimiles of the handwriting or the autographs of famous people along with their biographies.

When he asked Darwin if he’d contribute, the scientist jumped at the chance. It was an opportunity to hit back at his doubters.

At the time, six years after the first-edition release of On the Origin of Species, it was a common criticism that he couldn’t explain the origin of life itself.

Darwin conceded this was the case but that it was irrelevant to his observations of how life on Earth evolved and diversified. As with gravity, its “essence” might not be understood but Newton’s equations certainly worked.

And here’s Darwin’s text, which dates from 1865 (The Origin was published in 1859):

I have now recapitulated the chief facts and considerations, which have thoroughly convinced me that species have been modified, during a long course of descent, by the preservation or the natural selection of many successive slight favourable variations. I cannot believe that a false theory would explain, as it seems to me that the theory of natural selection does explain, the several large classes of facts above specified. It is no valid objection that science as yet throws no light on the far higher problem of the essence or origin of life. Who can explain what is the essence of attraction of gravity? No one now objects to following out the results consequent on this unknown element of attraction; notwithstanding that Leibnitz formerly accused Newton of introducing “occult qualities & miracles into philosophy”. – Charles Darwin.

Compare this to the last paragraph of the origin of species, where Darwin makes an analogy to the laws of physics (gravity) with his ‘law” of evolution by natural selection:

Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object of which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

*Yesterday was Nellie Bowles’s news summary on Bari Weiss’s Substack: “TGIF: Thanksgiving Edition“.  Here are a few items showing her patented snarky humor:

→ If you hate fun, go to Mastodon: Speaking of tsk-tskers, a wonderful thing has happened. Furious about Elon Musk’s acquisition of their favorite platform, a group of major pro-censorship Twitter personalities have decided they need to leave the place altogether. They’ve gone en masse to a new platform called Mastodon. And there they are (what else) yelling at each other. As the pollster Nate Silver put it: “Mastodon seems like a honeytrap for hall-monitor personality types. Honestly if Elon gets all the hall monitors to migrate to Mastodon that might be his greatest contribution toward the betterment of humanity.” Unfortunately it’s hard to imagine they’ll stay away for long. CBS got big applause after saying they’d be getting off Twitter, only to quickly return: “After pausing for much of the weekend to assess the security concerns, CBS News and Stations is resuming its activity on Twitter as we continue to monitor the situation.”

I’m not a big fan of Elon Musk, but I’m staying on Twitter for the time being. That’s where all the fun is—and cat pictures!

→ Black Hebrew Israelites hold a huge rally that goes ignored: Hundreds of black supremacists marched through Brooklyn this week chanting: “It’s time to wake up. I’ve got good news for you, we are the real Jews.” Videos here and here. They were marching to support basketball player Kyrie Irving who was briefly suspended after promoting a movie that argues the Holocaust is fake. Kanye West, meanwhile, was spotted in Miami with white nationalist Nick Fuentes, a proud antisemite. I hate to say it, but you should watch a Fuentes video to understand how extreme his beliefs are and how alarming this moment is. Here’s one. Here’s another.

→ The brave Iranian soccer team: At the World Cup, as their nation’s anthem played, the Iranian soccer team did not sing it. It’s another sign of how deep the rebellion is going in Iran. And it’s unbelievably brave, since there’s a good chance those young men join the tens of thousands imprisoned (or far worse) when they get home. Remember their courage next time the Biden administration insists we need to make a deal with their oppressors.

You go, Nellie! Biden is an invertebrate with respect to Iran.

*World Cup results:  England tied the U.S. 0-0, an achievement:

The United States and England played to a scoreless tie at the World Cup on Friday, a result that the Americans could be proud of but which has left them with a simple and high-stakes task: They must beat Iran on Monday to avoid elimination from the tournament.

England heard boos from its fans after the final whistle but walked off with a valuable point: With four now, it leads the group, ahead of Iran (three), the United States (two) and Wales (one). The English are in the driver’s seat, needing only a tie in their final game against Wales, but after a performance that had them on their heels for long stretches they will see work ahead if they are to live up to their pretournament billing as a title contender.

Other scores: Iran beat Wales 2-0, Senegal beat the home team Qatar 3-1, and Ecuador outscored the Netherlands 3-1.  What with several upsets, this is going to be an interesting World Cup. Would readers care to venture any guesses who the winner will be?  That leads to. . .

A CONTEST! Pick the final two teams and the final score giving the winner of the World Cup. If you get the teams and the winner right but not the score, I’ll randomly pick a winner who will get an autographed copy of any of my books (except Speciation!) with the animal of your choice drawn in it

*The Washington Post published a paean to both the World Cup and soccer, which has become my favorite sport (pity I don’t have a way to watch the good games). The piece, by Henry Olsen, is called “Watch the World Cup—and experience something infinitely enthralling.” An excerpt:

The World Cup is not soccer at its best, but it might be soccer at its finest. With 32 national teams converging in one place, the sheer spectacle is unmatched by anything except the Olympics. It has the quality of an all-star game, as each team has its country’s finest players, who are brought together only for brief interludes each year. And the short-term competition makes for stunning upsets, just as college basketball’s March Madness does. Japan’s 2-1 upset over perennial power Germany this week is the global equivalent of a 16 seed knocking off a No. 1.

If that doesn’t whet your appetite, consider the winner plays, loser stays element. All 32 teams are currently in the group stage, where four teams play one another once each to determine which two advance. After that, it’s like the NFL playoffs. It doesn’t matter where you’re seeded in the FIFA rankings: You either win or go home. Each game has the intensity that makes college bowl games so exciting.

The final itself is an event that easily dwarfs the Super Bowl. It won’t have a halftime show, but it doesn’t need one. More than 1.1 billion people worldwide tuned in to part of the 2018 final — roughly 1 in 7 on the planet. The Super Bowl dominates American viewership but attracts little attention elsewhere, with a total global viewership of less than 200 million. Outside the United States, the exploits of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappé, not Tom Brady, are on everyone’s lips.

And this paragraph links to three good videos:

This alone is reason to join the fun now. It takes time to pick up the game’s intricacies, but even novices can appreciate the sheer individual brilliance that can make or break a game. You might see something akin to Gareth Bale’s famous bicycle kick or Son Heung-min dribble the length of the pitch to score. Or perhaps you’ll watch a historically controversial play, such as Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal against England in 1986. It’s like watching the NBA’s greats put on a show — once you see jazz in sporting form, you’re hooked.

*Finally, Iran’s victory over Wales brought out rancor between protestors of the Iranian government’s actions and supporters of the regime. And the team actually sang the Iranian national anthem this time; they were probably given the word: “Sing like a canary of you’ll wind up in Evin.”

From the AP:

Tensions ran high at Iran’s second match at the World Cup on Friday as fans supporting the Iranian government harassed those protesting against it and stadium security seized flags, T-shirts and other items expressing support for the protest movement that has gripped the Islamic Republic.

Some fans were stopped by security guards from bringing in Persian pre-revolutionary flags to the match against Wales at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. Others carrying such flags had them ripped from their hands by pro-government Iran fans, who also shouted insults at fans wearing T-shirts with the slogan of the protest movement gripping the country, “Woman, Life, Freedom.”

Unlike in their first match against England, the Iran players sang along to their national anthem before the match as some fans in the stadium wept, whistled and booed.

The national team has come under close scrutiny for any statements or gestures about the nationwide protests that have wracked [sic] Iran for weeks.

Shouting matches erupted in lines outside the stadium between fans screaming “Women, Life, Freedom” and others shouting back “The Islamic Republic!”

Mobs of men surrounded three different women giving interviews about the protests to foreign media outside the stadium, disrupting broadcasts as they angrily chanted, “The Islamic Republic of Iran!” Many female fans appeared shaken as Iranian government supporters shouted at them in Farsi and filmed them up close on their phones.

Here’s an AP photo of a protestor holding up the name of the woman beaten to death by Iranian authorities simply because she didn’t wear her hijab in the proper way. Amini’s death was the fuse that ignited the present explosion of protest against the theocratic regime.

(From the AP) An Iran team supporter cries as she holds a shirt that reads ‘Mahsa Amini’ prior to the start of the World Cup group B soccer match between Wales and Iran, at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Here’s Shappi Khorsandi, Vice-President of the Humanists UK and a stand-up comedian, on the situation in Iran. (To see Shappi in full comedy action, go here. I’m a big fan.)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, it’s bedtime:

A: Enough of playing, we are going to sleep.
Hili: I’m sleeping already.
In Polish:
Ja: Koniec zabawy, idziemy spać.
Hili: Ja już śpię.


From Nicole, a useful hint for the holidays. (You’ll have to go inside to put and get the presents):

From Merilee, a Dave Coverly cartoon:

From Simon, who found this on Twitter:

God’s still writing bad poetry at Mastodon, so let’s have two tweets from Masih. The regime’s Men in Black are beating up civilian dissidents:

A tweet from Luana. Note that baby emus are striped, just like baby tapirs!

A smart cat, and one that likes its comforts, from Malcolm:

A salacious but sarcastic tweet from Ken, who notes, “Looks like there’s no doubt about what Twitter has become under the SpaceX Oddity (apologies to David Bowie); there is only haggling over the price.”

I don’t think Trump is gonna give in here. . . .

From the Auschwitz Memorial: a dapper Dutch lad, killed at age 16 in Auschwitz:

Tweets from Matthew. This one was so good that I retweeted it with my own caption. Watch the whole thing: it’s 2 minutes and 20 seconds of mesmerizing group flight. (Matthew and I share a love of murmurations, and we’re still not sure why birds do this: here they swoop about for more than two minutes.

There’s music if you want to turn the sound up. I wonder if people walk around this section of the floor:

Even adults like to play in the snow. I’m sure your Spanish is good enough to understand the caption.

The Royal Observatory’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest

July 6, 2022 • 8:00 am

Instead of readers’ wildlife today (I’m saving up), let’s see some entries from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest. The shortlisted entires have been reproduced in several places. The ones below are below from the Times, but Forbes also has an array, with this note:

The world’s most prestigious competition for cosmic images has revealed its shortlist—and it’s packed with wonder.

From the Moon and eclipses to comets and the northern lights, the shortlisted images for this year’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year have been plucked from over 3,000 entries from amateur and professional photographers in 67 countries.

Organized by London’s Royal Observatory Greenwich and sponsored by Liberty Specialty Markets and in association with BBC Sky at Night Magazine, this 14th annual competition will announce its winners on September 15, 2022.

The Times reports that the photos are on exhibit at Britain’s National Maritime Museum, which also happens to be in Greenwich.

Click on the screenshot to see them all (beware as the Times of London, where this was published, often uses a paywall); I’ll show my favorite six (with credits, of course), but there are 15, all gems. The paper’s captions are indented; click on the photos to enlarge them.

A partial eclipse of the Sun shot from Romano d’Ezzelino in the Veneto region of Italy on June 10 last year. It was a day of low solar activity, enabling the photographer to capture this unusually crisp image of the Moon’s silhouette. ALESSANDRO RAVAGNIN

The Northern Lights are reflected in the still waters of a lake in Alberta, Canada. SHANE TURGEON

There are lots of pictures of the Sun.

Clouds of hydrogen gas give way as the magnetic field lines of the Sun snap and clash together. This display of nature, taken from Los Angeles, creates astonishing features, known as prominences. SIMON TANG

Chidiya Tapu, in India, is rich in flora and fauna. Far from city lights, the nature reserve in the Andaman Islands archipelago is ideal base for wide-field astrophotography. Here, the Milky Way seems to mirror the water on its course. VIKAS CHANDER

The Soul nebula and its core, as seen from China. To its east is a complex of nebulae and star clusters known as the Heart nebula. Together they are often referred to as Heart and Soul. NAN WANG, BINYU WANG

This must have been taken near Death Valley (or the Panamint Valley), places where I’ve spent months collecting flies.  So I suppose this is my favorite.

Viewed from California under a quadruple arch, the stars circle around Polaris, in this stack of 33 four-minute exposures. The Sierra Nevada mountain range fills the horizon and Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the continental United States, is on the far left. SEAN GOEBEL

h/t: Malcolm, Ginger K.

Headline of the month!

December 13, 2021 • 9:15 am

I found this story mentioned on Facebook, and tell me: who would not want to read further? In fact, the story is true.

Saudi camel owners are illicitly injecting botox and giving their camels plastic surgery to make them more beautiful! I, for one, didn’t know that there was pride involved in owning a beautiful camel. Click the screenshot from NBC to read:

I will simply reproduce the whole story and try to find some pictures or videos of the beauty festival (my emphases below):

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi authorities have conducted their biggest-ever crackdown on camel beauty contestants that received Botox injections and other artificial touch-ups, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported Wednesday, with over 40 camels disqualified from the annual pageant.

Saudi Arabia’s popular King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, which kicked off earlier this month, invites the breeders of the most beautiful camels to compete for some $66 million in prize money. Botox injections, face lifts and other cosmetic alterations to make the camels more attractive are strictly prohibited. Jurors decide the winner based on the shape of the camels’ heads, necks, humps, dress and postures.

Judges at the monthlong festival in the desert northeast of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, are escalating their clamp down on artificially enhanced camels, the official news agency reported, using “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.

This year, authorities discovered dozens of breeders had stretched out the lips and noses of camels, used hormones to boost the beasts’ muscles, injected camels’ heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands and used fillers to relax their faces.

“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report said, adding organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”

The camel beauty contest is at the heart of the massive carnival, which also features camel races, sales and other festivities typically showcasing thousands of dromedaries. The extravaganza seeks to preserve the camel’s role in the kingdom’s Bedouin tradition and heritage, even as the oil-rich country plows ahead with modernizing mega-projects.

Camel breeding is a multimillion-dollar industry and similar events take place across the region.

Now I understand: it’s all about the money! Sixty-six million bucks for the fastest and most beautiful camels!  If I had any desire to go to Saudi Arabia, I would go for this festival.

Here’s a 15-minute VICE video of a day at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in 20l8, including shots of camel racing (8 km in the desert with robot jockeys, but there’s cheating there, too!), and the famous beauty contest, which starts at 8:40.  What is judged is the collective beauty of each herd of 100 camels. A Saudi explains the criteria for a beautiful camel, including a long neck and lovely lips. They also explain the cheating (in that year 12 camels were disqualified for having Botox injections).  A prize camel can go for half a million dollars!

At the very end, the most beautiful herd is paraded past the spectators with much ceremony.

You MUST watch this video!

Some winners: 2021 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

October 20, 2021 • 1:30 pm

NPR has a selection of fantastic winning photos from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest run by the London Museum of Natural History.  I just have time to show you a few of my favorites before I go to feed our few remaining ducks. Honey, Dorothy, and their swain, Prince Charming, need fattening up before they head south.  There are thirteen photos, and I’ll show six with the NPR captions and credits (indented).

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Head to head, by Stefano Unterthiner, Italy, winner, behaviour: mammals category. Unterthiner watched two Svalbard reindeer battle for control of a harem. Unterthiner followed these reindeer during the rutting season. Watching the fight, he felt immersed in “the smell, the noise, the fatigue and the pain.” The reindeer clashed antlers until the dominant male (left) chased its rival away.

Stefano Unterthiner/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Nursery meltdown, by Jennifer Hayes, U.S., winner, Oceans – The Bigger Picture category. Hayes recorded harp seals, seal pups and the blood of birth against melting sea ice. Following a storm, it took hours of searching by helicopter to find this fractured sea ice used as a birthing platform by harp seals. “It was a pulse of life that took your breath away,” says Hayes.

Jennifer Hayes/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The intimate touch, by Shane Kalyn, Canada, winner, behaviour: birds category. Kalyn watched a raven courtship display. It was midwinter, the start of the ravens’ breeding season. Kalyn lay on the frozen ground and used the muted light to capture the ravens’ iridescent plumage against the contrasting snow to reveal this intimate moment when their thick black bills came together.

Shane Kalyn/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Creation, by Laurent Ballesta, France, winner, category: underwater. Ballesta peered into the depths as a trio of camouflage groupers exited its milky cloud of eggs and sperm. For five years Ballesta and his team returned to this lagoon, diving day and night to see the annual spawning of camouflage groupers. They were joined after dark by reef sharks that were hunting the fish.

Laurent Ballesta/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Where the giant newts breed, by João Rodrigues, Portugal, winner, behaviour: amphibians and reptiles category. Rodrigues was surprised by a pair of courting sharp-ribbed salamanders in this flooded forest. It was Rodrigues’ first chance in five years to dive into this lake, as it emerges only in winters of exceptionally heavy rainfall, when underground rivers overflow.

João Rodrigues/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Elephant in the room, by Adam Oswell, Australia, winner, category: photojournalism. Oswell draws attention to zoo visitors watching a young elephant perform underwater.

Adam Oswell/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

h/t: Laurie

Winners: Nature Conservancy photo contest

October 10, 2021 • 2:00 pm

There are about two dozen winners in the Nature Conservancy’s 2021 Global Photo Contest. I’ll show six of my favorites, but go over to their site and look at them all: all of them are gorgeous or fascinating. I’ve put the name of the photographer in bold. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

First, the Grand Prize Winner:

MALUI Western lowland gorilla female ‘Malui’ walking through a cloud of butterflies she has disturbed in a bai. Bai Hokou, Dzanga Sangha Special Dense Forest Reserve, Central African Republic. December 2011. © Anup Shah/TNC Photo Contest 2021

First place, wildliife:

A TURBULENT SWIM Five male cheetahs, were looking to cross this river in powerful currents. It seemed a task doomed to failure and we were delighted when they made it to the other side. © Buddhilini de Soyza/TNC Photo Contest 2021

Honorable mention, Wildlife.

SEARCHING Orangutans are accustomed to live on trees and feed on wild fruits like lychees, mangosteens, and figs, and slurp water from holes in trees. © Thomas Vijayan/TNC Photo Contest 2021
Honorable Mention, Water.
SUMMER ON THE LOTUS POND The lotus ponds across Vietnam are entering the growing season, flourishing. © Manh Cuong Vu/TNC Photo Contest 2021


Second place, People and Nature.

SAND STORM A guide in the Sahara Desert enduring a sand storm. © Tom Overall/TNC Photo Contest 2021

People’s choice winner

FIREFLIES Just before Monsoon, these fireflies congregate in certain regions of India and on a few special trees like this one, they are in crazy quantity which can range in millions. © Prathamesh Ghadekar/TNC Photo Contest 2021

h/t: Laurie

Dentally handicapped Otis won the title of “Fattest Bear”

October 6, 2021 • 11:30 am

The people have spoken and the Fat Bear has sung: we have a winner of the 2021 Fat Bear Contest. And it happens to be my favorite of the final pair: Otis (bear #480).  See below, and look at that weight gain on Otis in less than two months!

If you read their biographies, you’ll see that Otis was at a physical disadvantage here. He’s a Senior Bear, about twenty-five years old. Walker, in contrast, is a spry youngster of fourteen. Further, as you can see in the photo below, Otis has dental issues. As the bio states:

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.

That’s one seriously messed up set of choppers!  So, as the disadvantage Underbear, Otis got my vote, and won handily, by nearly 6,400 votes.  Sadly, I don’t think the bears get a prize from the Park Service for winning: their reward is fitness coming from fatness: they have a higher chancing of surviving the winter hibernation.

So congratulations to Otis, and let’s hope he’s back next year. As the National Wildlife Federation notes, most grizzlies are dead by the time they’re twenty-five.

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

Don’t forget to vote in the Fat Bear Contest!

September 29, 2021 • 11:05 am

As I announced yesterday, today at noon eastern time begins Fat Bear Week! Every day (from noon to 9 pm Eastern U.S. time, you can vote for one or two pairings (depending on the day) up to October 5, when the Champion Fat Bear is announced. (You can see all the pairings and the schedule here.)

Today you’ll be able, as of this posting, vote for the fatter bear in the two pairings below. To vote, go to this site, see the pairings at the bottom and then choose your bear for each.

Fat Bear Week is from September 29th to October 5th, your vote decides who is the fattest of the fat. Matchups will be open for voting between 12 – 9  p.m. Eastern (9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Pacific). Click the bear you would like to vote for. That bear will then be outlined in blue.  Then enter your email in the space and hit enter. You know that you have successfully voted if you see the total votes for each bear.

Holly’s biography is here, and Grazer’s is here.

Popeye’s biography is here, and Walker’s biography is here.

When this post goes up, the voting will be open. Remember, it’s survival of the fattest!