At 1,400 pounds, Bear Force One wins this year’s Fat Bear Week showdown
Despite a bot ballot stuffing scandal, the colossal 747 soared over the competition by more than 10,000 votes.
Despite an attempt at voter fraud over the weekend, integrity and salmon-stocked bellies reigned supreme in Alaska when bear 747 (aka Bear Force One) was crowned the winner of Fat Bear Week 2022. The colossal bear beat, a rookie upstart bear 901 who is described as being “both exploratory and occasionally mischievous”.
747 is Katmai National Park and Preserve’s undisputed biggest bear, at around 1,400 pounds. He’s an adult male brown bear with a blocky muzzle and a floppy right ear. “In early summer, his reddish-brown fur sheds in a patchy manner. Like many adult males, he often has scars and wounds on his face and neck. In late summer and fall, he is typically very fat with a low-hanging belly and uniformly dark brown fur,” wrote the park and preserve. When he was first identified in 2004, 747 was only a few years old and had trouble competing with the larger bears at the most desirable fishing locations. He clearly has put those humble origins behind him and has become one of the largest brown bears on Earth. He is no stranger to this competition, and was crowned fattest bear in 2020.
There is speculation that runner up bear 901 is pregnant, as her before and after photos show her almost tripling in size. Meanwhile, 747 started off the season big but came back to the river this year with a wonky ear, “probably because he got in a fight with another bear and maybe didn’t fare well,” Fat Bear Week creator and Explore.org resident naturalist Mike Fitz, told The Washington Post. This injury may have given bear fans an extra reason to root for Bear Force One.
[Related: How scientists try to weigh some of the fattest bears on Earth.]
Since the first contest in 2014, Fat Bear Week is an annual single-elimination tournament of 12 brown bears in Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve against each other in an online March Madness-style bracket. Fans votes on Explore.org for their favorite fat bear, all of whom have spent the summer months bulking up for the winter months ahead. Fans don’t typically vote on size alone, but also on the bear’s personalities or the obstacles the bear overcame to pack on the pounds that season. Viewers from all over the world can get a glimpse of their park on Katmai’s live Bear Cams.
The competition is a celebration of conservation. “For bears, fat equals survival. Each winter, bears enter the den where they will not eat or drink until they emerge in spring. During this time, they may lose up to one-third of their body weight as they rely solely on their fat reserves. Survival depends on eating a year’s worth of food in six months,” said the National Park Service (NPS), in a press release.
Bears are drawn to Katmai for the plentiful salmon from roughly late June through September. The nutritious pink fish have supported Katmai’s people, bears, and other fauna for generations. “Fat bears exemplify the richness of this area, a wild region that is home to more brown bears than people and the largest, healthiest runs of sockeye salmon left on the planet,” said the NPS.
[Related: How to keep fat bears (and other bears) out of your trash.]
However, this year, bear bellies weren’t the only thing stuffed. On Sunday, the park tweeted, “FAT BEAR WEEK SCANDAL,” displaying a model of online voting transparency. According to the park, the virtual ballot box was stuffed in Sunday’s competition between 747 and a bear named Holly. The voter fraud was caught in time, and the poll watchers reported seeing a large swing of votes in Holly’s favor, which lends some legitimacy to 747’s victory in this semi-final round.
Ever the model of election integrity, Explore.org added a captcha step to the voting process as a way of weeding out the bots and other automated attacks and they even went back to review the votes for the other stages of the competition. Widespread foul play has been.
We at Popular Science would like to congratulate 747 on his victory and wish a happy hibernation to all of this year’s competitors.