Mark your calendars! Fat Bear Week is returning in a few days—that special time of year when you can wholeheartedly and proudly root for your favorite plump bear.
Fat Bear Week is the annual bear chunk-off at Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska.
In preparation for their winter slumber, these adorable brown bears indulge in a salmon buffet at Brooks River, piling on the pounds for a cozy five- to eight-month hibernation nap.
What started as a humble Fat Bear Tuesday in 2014, aimed at celebrating the Alaskan bears’ winter weight gain and the thriving ecosystem supporting them, has blossomed into a week-long extravaganza. Thousands of people from around the globe flock to FatBearWeek.com and cast their votes for the chunkiest bear they love.
“Fat Bear Week highlights the accomplishments of these burly bruins and shines a spotlight on the healthy ecosystem in which they can thrive,” the National Park Service said in a press release. “The Brooks River is part of the Bristol Bay watershed; one of the last great salmon runs left on earth. Without the pristine Brooks River ecosystem to support an abundant salmon run, there would be no Fat Bear champions.”
Bears need to consume enough calories before hibernation to avoid losing 15-30% of their body weight, according to the National Park Service.
Last year, over one million votes poured in from around the world. The crowned champion, Bear 747, affectionately known as Bear Force One, tipped the scales at a hefty 1,400 pounds, securing over 37,900 votes.
You can see Bear Force One’s startling transformation in the picture below.
C. Rohdenburg / L. Law / National Park Service
But his path to victory was anything but smooth after the competition faced a scandalous incident of voter fraud.
Some mischievous individuals attempted to push their favorites up the ballot by submitting fake votes. Thankfully, vigilant poll workers detected the irregularity and promptly discarded the phony votes.
Luckily for the National Park Service’s clean reputation, the bears never found out about this mishap and did not ask for an independent recount.
Let’s hope for a clean election this year. You can start filling out your brackets Oct. 2, and the voting starts from Oct. 4 through Oct. 10.
Every day, fans vote for their bears, and those with the most votes at the end of the day move on to the next round until a champion is crowned by the week’s end.
There’s also a friendly competition that kicks off next week, with Fat Bear Junior running from Sept. 28–29. These are mostly cubs and the winner will go on to compete with the chunks in Fat Bear Week.
And if you’re a fan of this competition, please remember to care for your parks and natural areas, as the park says “fat bears only exist because of clean water and healthy ecosystems.”