Otis crowned fattest bear again

Otis hunting for salmon to fatten up before hibernation at Katmai National Park and Preserve in...
Otis hunting for salmon to fatten up before hibernation at Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. Photo: C. Spencer/U.S. National Park Service via Reuters
One of the ursine elders of Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska is now a four-time champion of chunk.

Otis, a brown bear estimated to be 24 to 26 years old, was crowned on Tuesday as the winner of Katmai’s annual Fat Bear Week. He came out on top in an online competition pitting 12 large, salmon-chomping bears against one another.

Otis wound up besting the other finalist, a chocolate-brown male known as Walker, in the final round of voting.

"The portly patriarch of paunch persevered to pulverise the Baron of Beardonkadonk," the park said in its Twitter announcement.

Fat Bear Week, a joint project of the park and its non-profit partners, the Katmai Conservancy and the media organization explore.org, has become an internet sensation.

Wildlife fans submitted votes in a playoff-style competition featuring photographs and video of the bears feasting at a waterfall site on the salmon-rich Brooks River. Explore.org's "bear cam" captured live footage of the bear action at Brooks Falls.

Otis, thanks to his longevity, is a Fat Bear institution.

First documented at the falls in 2001, Otis was the inaugural Fat Bear champion, winning in 2014 when the event was held on a single day. He also took the 2016 and 2017 titles. The Katmai Conservancy has named a fundraising project after him; last year, the Otis Fund raised more than $US230,000 ($NZ331,000) for Katmai research, education and bear-protection projects.

In his old age, Otis can no longer compete with the younger and stronger bears for prime fishing spots, according to park officials. Two of his canine teeth are missing, and the others are worn.

But when it comes to salmon, Otis is deceptively canny, according to explore.org’s website.

"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 as a result," the website says.

Katmai sprawls over four million acres on the Alaska Peninsula in the southwestern part of the state. The park is home to about 2200 brown bears that can grow to 450kg or more. The bears are fattened by salmon swimming in from Bristol Bay, site of the world’s biggest salmon runs.

The bears need their girth because they can lose a third of their weight during their winter hibernation, park officials said.

Even with Fat Bear Week over, park officials said on Twitter that Otis "is still chowing down."

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