A looming government shutdown would suspend the internet’s annual celebration of the fat bears.
The shutdown, which is set to happen at 12:01 a.m. ET on Oct. 1 unless Congress funds the government, will close all the national parks, including Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve, which annually hosts the Fat Bear Week contest. During the event, the public votes in a playoff-like, single-elimination tournament for the fattest bear. It’s a recognition of these bears succeeding in the harsh wilderness, often triumphantly, and ensuring good odds for their winter survival.
“Hopefully a lapse doesn’t occur. However, should a lapse happen, we will need to postpone Fat Bear Week,” Cynthia Hernandez, a spokesperson for Katmai National Park and Preserve, told Mashable.
In 2023, Katmai planned Fat Bear Week to occur between Oct. 4 through Oct. 10. (A pre-competition to choose the fattest cub, “Fat Bear Week Junior,” is still currently happening.)
Park rangers saw something unprecedented in this year’s fat bears
How long a Fat Bear Week postponement might occur is unknown. That depends on how long the government goes without funding. Most shutdowns last a day or two, but over December 2018 through early 2019 a shutdown lasted over a month.
Katmai runs Fat Bear Week in collaboration with the wildlife livestreaming organization explore.org. Explore.org hosts the online voting website and its naturalists provide invaluable information about the bears, but the greater event requires support and communication from Katmai’s rangers.
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The adverse effects of a shutdown, of course, would go far beyond the Fat Bear Week competition. Park Service staff wouldn’t work. Private jobs and companies that support parks would lose money. “At NPS sites across the country, gates will be locked, visitor centers will be closed, and thousands of park rangers will be furloughed,” the Department of Interior said. “Accordingly, the public will be encouraged not to visit sites during the period of lapse in appropriations out of consideration for protection of natural and cultural resources, as well as visitor safety.”
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“Let’s celebrate that survivor.”
If Fat Bear Week is indeed delayed, rest assured, the bears are still extremely fat. An aging bear, Otis, arrived extremely gaunt at Katmai’s Brooks River this summer, where the bears feast on salmon. His ribcage and hipbones were even showing. But Otis, also numbered bear 480, persevered, at times eating 100 pounds of fish over a day and a half. He’s now filled-out, and ready to outlast the long Alaskan winter.
“Let’s celebrate that survivor,” Naomi Boak, Katmai National Park and Preserve’s media ranger, told Mashable earlier this week.