For bears, building a summer body has an unique meaning. Instead of getting beach-ready, these large mammals are loading up on fuel for winter hibernation, which means that their goal is to pack on as much body weight as possible from summer to fall. This is the time for bears to try to eat a year’s worth of food in about six months. The thickest individuals can gain up to 100 pounds during this body transformation period.
In 2014, a tradition called Fat Bear Week was started by the National Park Service in partnership with multimedia organization explore.org to honor this phenomenon. Now, every year, human participants can vote for their favorite brown bear in Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve in a knockout-style tournament that starts in late September. The fattest bear champ is announced in early October.
Explore.org, which provides the camera streams into the lives of bears, hosts a series of live cams connected around the world. The seven bear cams, stationed throughout the Alaskan park and even in the streams, have been in operation since 2012. Besides bears, there are other livestreams that peek at orcas in British Columbia, a bat cave in Texas, the kelp forests off the west coast of the US, and birds along the Mississippi (which is called Nestflix), just to name a few. There’s a comment section for users to discuss what they’re seeing, too.
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There are also cameras set up in more mundane places, like a kitten rescue sanctuary in Los Angeles, California. And these cams have helped natural science researchers understand how animals are behaving in remote locations, providing useful data for conservation efforts.
Additionally, studies in 2021 and 2022 found that in particular, the bear cams help visitors, both virtual and in person, develop an emotional connection to the well-being of these animals, and they become willing to pay to help with their preservation. The benefit goes both ways, as having this kind of parasocial, intimate relationship with the natural world also boosts visitors’ mental health.
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In some cases, these cameras have come in handy unexpectedly. Last week, stream viewers helped park staff rescue a lost hiker who signaled for help in front of one of the live cameras. “That was a first for the bear cams for sure,” Mike Fitz, a resident naturalist with Explore.org and creator of Fat Bear Week, told The Washington Post.
Watch Katmai’s bears on the prowl for grub by opening up one of seven live webcams. (If you get lucky, you might see one of this year’s contestants for Fat Bear Week in action.) If the action on your chosen cam slows down, you can click any of the thumbnails under the main feed to see what’s going on elsewhere in the park. Check out explore.org’s YouTube page for highlight reels.