Contestants are tracked by their numbers, but veteran animals are known by names like the large male Chunk, or the blond-eared female Holly. Then there’s 747 — who doesn’t need a nickname because his number and size both echo the famous jumbo jet.
Fans often follow their favorite bears on webcams in the park, watching as they try to extract sockeye salmon from rapids and waterfalls along the Brooks River.
It helps to be a big bear with a big personality
While the competition favors girth, bears often become sentimental favorites, thanks to personal stories experts have gleaned from years of observation.
Take Holly, aka 435, who has guided several cubs on difficult paths to becoming successful adults — including 503, whom she adopted after he was left alone as a yearling cub.
If you need bear analysis, park staff and naturalist Mike Fitz of Explore.org recently discussed the 2022 field in a video.
Who you got in 2022?
One of the youngest bears in the bracket is a female subadult dubbed 335, who is Holly’s daughter.
“Subadults are essentially the teenagers of the bear world,” from around 2 and a half to 5 years old, Katmai Park Ranger Lian Law said, describing how they’re blocked from the best fishing spots and learn to live away from their mothers for the first time.
As that narrative suggests, the bears’ backstories are a great way for the park to educate the public about the wide range of bear behaviors, from their fishing and survival strategies to how they interact with other animals.