Each summer, park staff usually identify about 40 bears along the Brooks River, Ms. Kraft said, adding that only brown bears regularly inhabit the park. “Taxonomists currently consider brown bears and grizzly bears to be the same species,” she said, distinguished mainly by brown bears’ access to coastal food and grizzlies’ inland habitat.
Bears and their admirers
Park staff members assign the bears numbered names, like 480 Otis, so that they can identify and monitor them, and some of the most frequently seen bears get nicknames, too. Each year, the officials detail biographies for the bears, listing their age, gender and offspring, and they set up a live webcam that shows the bears fishing (and entertains people online).
On social media, the bears have fans who root for them as they go about their bear lives. Using the hashtag #fatbearweek, some superfans have even dressed up as their preferred bear. One such fan, Kimberly Daggerhart of Asheville, N.C., wore a bear costume for Halloween last year to celebrate 435 Holly, the season’s winner.
“She is large and in charge and she seems to be a great mom to her cubs,” said Ms. Daggerhart, 35. “I think this contest is so popular because it’s one of the few remaining wholesome events we can all participate in. It’s fun to cheer for these bears!”
Ursine all stars
This year, 435 Holly will defend her title.
“She is fat. She is fabulous,” the park announced after she won last year. “Long live the Queen of Corpulence!”
Holly, described as a “medium-large adult” on her bio, has won over some fans with her strong maternal instincts. She has reared several litters of cubs, making her “one of the more experienced and tolerant mother bears at Brooks River,” it said. In 2014, she adopted a lone cub into her family and raised the cub alongside her own.