In the battle of the beefiest, 480 Otis has emerged the enormous victor of Fat Bear Week 2021, beating 151 Walker by more than 6,000 votes after a rousing day at the polls.
While not the literal biggest of the brown bears at Alaska’s Katmai National Park, Otis captured the hearts of fans with his #TransformationTuesday results made possible by his tale of overcoming obstacles this season.
“He came back to the river later than average for him. He was quite thin at that time, but he’s filled in nicely,” Mike Fitz, creator of the competition and resident naturalist with Explore.org, told The Washington Post last week. “It’s really fun to see people’s love for Otis being expressed through the competition and through their campaign efforts.”
Described by Explore.org as “a medium-large adult male with a blocky muzzle and a floppy right ear,” Otis is no underdog bear. While he showed up this year behind schedule, raggedy thin and missing teeth, the behemoth has now won the competition four times.
At approximately 25 years old, Otis is one of the oldest bears that feast at Brooks Falls before winter hibernation. He is also one of the most beloved, with his own dedicated Facebook page where fans post about his shenanigans at his “office,” referring to his preferred sockeye salmon feasting spot in the Brooks River.
Those following the bracket tournament discourse online could see the victory coming a mile away.
When the competition began on Sept. 30, the elderly contender was the clear fan favorite on Internet message boards and in Facebook conversations. That was evidenced by his smooth sailing to Fat Bear Tuesday. In the semifinals on Oct. 4, Otis trounced bear 812 by more than 26,000 votes.
However, the win was not without controversy. Some Fat Bear Week fans fought back online against the fawning over 480.
“When Otis wins . . . it’s only because the sympathy vote army turned out in greater numbers,” wrote Leslie Jensen in the Fat Bear Week Bracket Tournament Facebook group of more than 16,000 members. “Kind of like giving the MVP trophy to some old man at a nursing home ‘just because.’ “
Many online were rooting for last year’s absolute unit of a winner, the “hippo-esque” 747 who stole the show with his unambiguously superior size.
“He is the largest bear I’ve ever seen, and the fattest,” Fitz said of 747, nicknamed by fans as Bear Force One. “So I think he was deserving of it.”
When 747 arrived on the scene this year, fans and bear experts like Fitz were blown away by his pre-feasting heft. That didn’t stop him from losing to Otis by more than 11,000 votes.
Ultimately, Fat Bear Week isn’t about who wins or loses. It’s about championing conservation efforts to keep places such as Katmai National Park pristine for wildlife and visitors alike. The competition has even inspired people to travel to Alaska to see the rivalry in real life – although the trip is not easy or affordable to take. That’s where the explore.org bear cams come into play.
“I know that a lot of people experience many barriers to visiting national parks, even the ones that are accessible on the road system in the contiguous 48 states,” Fitz said. “That’s why I think the webcams are such an important asset . . . to sort of bridge those barriers.”