Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You …Weigh?

October 22, 2021
Brown Bear. US National Park Service (Public Domain)

Did you know that for the past seven years, people around the world could vote for who they deemed was the fattest brown bear living in Alaska’s Katmai National Park? During Fat Bear Week, people vote for who they think is the “chonkiest” of them all. You might think that this is a cruel competition, but it’s actually one to help bring awareness of just how important it is for bears to fatten up before they get ready for the long winter hibernation months.

Bears lose approximately a third of their weight when they retire to their dens during the wintertime, the fatter they are, the better off they are. But how can anyone figure out the weight of a bear living in the wild, you might be wondering?

There are several ways, but the most recent discovery of using a lidar (light detecting and ranging) scanner and reproducing a three-dimensional map of the object seems to be the most promising. The map that’s produced can then determine the volume of the object. With this information, the weight of the object can then be predicted. Although these scanners are a useful tool, it’s not the perfect mechanism for measuring the weight of a bear. After all, bears move, which makes scanning a bear harder than, say, scanning a landscape. But, the idea is that these scanners are fairly accurate when used correctly and provide a noninvasive way of measuring the weight of wild animals.

Now, back to Fat Bear Week. This year, twelve bears were up for the title of fattest bear, including last year’s winner, 747—yes, he’s named after a jumbo jet! There was stiff competition from bears named Chunk and Grazer but, in the end, 480 Otis out-chunked them all. With 51,230 votes, Otis won the title of the fattiest bear, 2021. Want to see what he looked like in September compared to what he looked like in July? Check it out here!