It’s official: 480 Otis is 2021's burliest bear. Bow down.
On Tuesday night, 480 Otis was declared the winner of Fat Bear Week, an online competition held to celebrate brown bears’ pre-hibernation weight gain in Katmai National Park and Preserve. He beat out the runner-up, 151 Walker, by almost 7,000 votes.
All fat bears are wonderful, and I would have been thrilled to see any of the corpulent contenders win the competition. But 480 Otis wasn’t my number one choice. In fact, he wasn’t even in my top five in the bracket tournament the park puts on each year.
The bear after my heart on the bracket was a rather unconventional choice: I was rooting for 132's spring cub, a young bear who earned his place in the bracket by winning this year’s inaugural Fat Bear Junior competition. He was in the competition for the first time, and had he won, he would have been the youngest bear to ever wear the crown.
480 Otis is a very different kind of winner. He’s about 25 years old, making him one of the eldest bears in the park. He’s not only been in previous years’ competitions, he’s also won it all three times, including in the first-ever bracket in 2014. Otis has highly supportive and vocal backers on Facebook pages and the contest’s homepage, and thanks to his previous victories, he’s well-known to all who care about Fat Bear Week.
Incredibly, there’s a fat bear wiki. Otis’ entry on what I’m sure is the definitive source of all things portly and ursine calls him the “Master of Patience and Efficiency.” (You should seriously visit the wiki if only for all the amazing photos and videos of Otis doing everything from frolicking to getting hiccups throughout the years. Also... this.) In 2016, the wiki notes he lost two of his canine teeth, which “somewhat inhibited his ability to “high-grade”–to pick out the fattiest parts of the salmon (skin, brain, and roe)–but did not stop him from putting on the necessary weight for winter survival.” It’s truly an inspiration, especially given the stakes.
“Bears arrive in July looking thin and frail,” explore.org founder Charlie Annenberg Weingarten said in an emailed statement. “Now as winter approaches they are rotund and ready to retire into hibernation. It is a true success story.”
Otis was a safe choice but a solid one, and after this year, perhaps that’s what we needed. 2021 has been a year of uncertainty, from ever-changing covid-19 protocols to wondering if the world will just always be on fire from here on out. In all that turbulence, a stalwart of the competition is the king we need. Otis, bear of sturdiness and stability, we salute you.