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How Otis defied the odds and won Fat Bear Week

He might not’ve been the biggest bear of the bunch, but he won over the most hearts

A brown bear catches a salmon at Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park in Alaska.
In this 2012 photo, a brown bear catches a salmon at Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park in Alaska. The park recently announced the winner of Fat Bear Week 2021.
Tahitia Hicks, explore.org via Associated Press

He might not have been the biggest bear of the bunch, but he won over the most hearts.

On Tuesday, Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve declared 480 Otis the winner of this year’s Fat Bear Week — an online competition that celebrates the bears’ pre-hibernation weight gain from late June to October, The New York Times reported.

Otis was one of 12 bears in the competition, which in total racked up hundreds of thousands of votes. In an intense final showdown at the polls, Otis went up against a bear named 151 Walker and defeated him by a margin of roughly 7,000 votes.

At 25, Otis — who is one of the older bears at the park — had a major comeback of sorts. He emerged from hibernation earlier this year looking thin and facing health problems, NPR reported.

“In particular, he is missing two canine teeth and many of his other teeth are greatly worn,” according to the bear’s bio on Explore.org. “Otis must also compete with younger and larger bears who want access to his fishing spots. Otis is more likely to be displaced by these bears than he is to displace them.”

Despite those odds, Otis emerged victorious, putting his fishing skills to use and feasting upon the salmon in the park’s Brooks River. While many of the younger, more energetic bears dashed or swam for their fish, Otis stayed relatively stationary, waiting for salmon to come to him, Mashable reported.

“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 rate as a result,” reads the bear’s bio on explore.org.

He is now a four-time champion, having won the first contest in 2014 and also in 2016 and 2017, the New York Times reported.

“He’s certainly made up for lost time,” Mike Fitz, the creator of Fat Bear Week, told Mashable. “He’s gained an incredible amount of body mass in about seven weeks.”

Park officials estimated Otis to weigh more than 1,000 pounds, according to BBC. Brown bears can gain up to four pounds of weight a day, and adult males can weigh up to 1,200 pounds.

Fat Bear Week, while generating love and attention for the big brown bears at Katmai National Park and Preserve, is also about championing conservation efforts, The Washington Post reported. To bridge the gap between wildlife and visitors, the park has bear cams readily available for viewers.

“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 told The Washington Post. “That’s why I think the webcams are such an important asset ... to sort of bridge those barriers.”

People can check in on the many bears at Katmai National Park and Preserve via a live video that’s streamed from Brooks Falls, a popular fishing spot, according to NPR. Other nature cams provide additional views of the park and animals.