Behind the scenes of the viral social media campaign for Fat Bear Week

It is that time of year when we can enjoy a live stream of bears filling their faces and then voting on our favorite glutton from the safety of our desks and benches. Fat Bear Week is here!


This is the fifth anniversary of the popular March Madness style competition in Katmai National Park. There are two braces every day during the week that place one big bear against the other. The chunkiest champion is crowned during the highlight of the tournament on Fat Bear Tuesday, October 8 – and this year there will be a turn. Voters will choose which bears they like best on the basis of photos beer cam imagery. But for the first time, thanks to 3D scans of the bears, Katmai will also be able to announce which bear is actually the thickest.

Win or lose, all bears have helped improve the profile of the remote national park. More than three days this week, Katmai & # 39; s Facebook page views jumped from 2,000 to more than 70,000, and the messages reached up to 730,000 people. In less than two days, the page almost reached the total number of votes it received during Fat Bear Week last year. Fans are so enthusiastic that they create campaign posters for their favorite participants.

A lot of body fat is a sign of good health and a great chance of survival for the brown bears, according to Katmai. The bears pile up to put them through hibernation, where a bear can lose no less than a third of its body weight while spending up to six months in its burrow.

There is a lot about getting to know the bears on their mission to pack the pounds, and it is a tough job to determine which of the more than 2,000 Katmai bears will compete. The edge spoke with Katmai Conservancy media rangers Naomi Boak and Brooklyn White, who bring us this delicious buffet of cuteness, to learn what is happening behind the scenes during Fat Bear Week. The two shoot photos of the bears and write down their descriptions and posts on social media. When they are in the field, Boak says they are "the last rangers to leave, so we can take the thickest photos."

This interview is lightly edited for length and clarity.

How do you get to know each bear?


Naomi Boak: If you look at a bear during a season and through the years, you get to see how they behave, what their relationships are with other bears. You get to recognize many of their physical characteristics. Although I sometimes have to say, at the end of the season when a bear has changed so much physically, I rely a lot on behavioral traits to really identify a bear. But there are many soap operas and drama & # 39; s and comedies. All these things happen during a season and through the years.

Brooklyn White: We rely on bear monitors that collect photos and data. They will have monitoring sessions that last between two and three hours, stationed at various points along the river. During that time they then collect data about their interactions, people who see them along the river, when vehicle noises have occurred, record what the bears do, when they sleep, fish, things like that. And then we will also document and identify the bears they see.

How do you determine which bears compete against each other in the bracket?

NB: We want to inform people of all the different bears and how they survive in this incredible ecosystem that we have along the Brooks River. So we have the usual suspects: the big giant bears, adult bears. We have some sows. We have sows with cubs, so multitasking mothers. We have cubs that are really getting bigger. That first year they go from zero to 60. The following year a yearling can more than double his size. And then we have the subadults (adolescents) that grow a lot and gain a lot in weight and fat. But they look like lanky teenagers. We want them all in this competition.

"One day you can win the Fat Bear Week."
Photograph by K. Stenberg / Katmai National Park

There are two other criteria: one is that they are bears that people who have been following the bears for years would recognize, so that the crowd of fans can come out and take root for their favorite bears. Make a lot of people campaign posters, that are just so funny. And we also need both skinny photos and thick photos of the bears. Throughout the season, we make media rangers as many photos as we can in profile, so that we have honest and fair photos. We ask every visitor who comes to see what photos they have, and some have generously presented their photos to us. And it's just, you know, it's a fun process – hard but fun.

What do you hope that the attention in the social media around Fat Bear Week will reach?

BW: Our park is so remote. Getting there is extremely difficult. You are talking about several planes, probably a boat or two. And so, what social media allows us to bring in those people who might never get a chance. Many of those who look at the bear cams never get the chance to step into the park. And so the social media component makes it possible for people who do not have the financial ability to come here, who do not have the mobility to make a trek to the park, have access. We are able to give a place in the front row to those people who would not have the chance to be involved, and then perhaps even inspire someone who would have a chance to leave. There were people who came to Katmai just because of messages that happened on the previous social media campaign for Fat Bear Week. (They) showed up this year to experience Katmai, to see the bears. And what Naomi and I have said is that social media is definitely the way to communicate these important ideas and to share our mission about resources, clean water and fat bears.


People can vote on Facebook for which bears they like best on the basis of photos. Do we know which bear is actually the largest?

BW: Our scientific team in the park was able to make some scans (using a 3D scanner) of different bears and was then able to look at the volume of that bear, some comparative mass & # 39; s water and do bold, get an estimated number in relation to pounds and at least give us a pretty relative weight for the bears along the Brooks River, and find out which bear is really the toughest. We have a number for which bear we find the coolest we can reveal after the end of the Fat Bear Week.