Don’t mess with this mama bear: Grazer easily wins popular Fat Bear Contest at Alaska national park

AP23285562519047.jpg

(In this photo provided by the National Park Service is Grazer, the winner of the 2023 Fat Bear Contest, at Katmai National Park, Alaska on Sept. 14, 2023. The park holds an annual contest in which people logging on to live webcams in park pick the fattest bear of the year. Grazer had 108,321 votes to handily beat Chunk, who has 23,134 votes, in the Oct. 10, 2023, finals. F. Jimenez/National Park Service via AP)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — When it comes to packing on the pounds to survive an Alaska winter, this year’s undisputed champ is Grazer.

Grazer, also known as Bear 128 to the fans of Fat Bear Week at Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve, won this year’s contest, handily defeating Chunk 108,321 to 23,134 in the finals.

The annual contest, which this year drew more than 1.3 million votes from dedicated fans watching the bears live at explore.org, is way to celebrate the resiliency of the brown bears that live on the preserve on the Alaska Peninsula, which extends from the state’s southwest corner toward the Aleutian Islands.

Viewers of Alaska’s most-watched popularity contest are glued to computer screens all summer long to see which bears are stocking up the most on salmon. They then vote in tournament style brackets over the course of a week, advancing bears to the next round until a champion is crowned. Grazer took the title Tuesday.

According to Grazer’s biography on the Katmai website, the large adult female is often one of the fattest bears to collect salmon on Brooks River inside Katmai. Park officials call her “one of the best anglers” in the park, fishing day or night from many different parts of the river, even chasing down fleeing salmon.

Grazer is one of an estimated 2,200 brown bears that call Katmai home.

A true mama bear, she’s known to attack larger bears, even adult males, to ensure her cubs are safe. She’s used her skills to successfully raise two litters of cubs.

This year’s contest was in peril just weeks ago. Had Congress not come to a last-minute deal to avoid a government shutdown at the end of September, Fat Bear Week would have been postponed since park employees would not have been allowed to count the votes.