An Alaskan brown bear, designated as Bear 747 by the Katmai National Park, and referred to by fans as Bear Force One, has been declared the winner of Fat Bear Week 2022. The estimated 1,400-pound giant is over 20 years old, and previously won the title in 2020. This year, he defeated Bear 901, a six-year-old female, in the final round by more than 10,000 votes.
For those out of the loop, Fat Bear Week is an annual online competition held by Alaska’s Katmai National Park to promote interest in their population of protected bears that would face impending threat from the proposed development of an open-pit gold and copper mine outside of the national park. The competition a single-elimination bracket of brown bears and winners are decided by the highest number of votes. The park hosts more than 2,200 bears, but only a lucky twelve are selected to vie for the title each year.
Fat Bear Week occurs in the late fall as the bears fatten up by eating salmon along the Brooks River in preparation for the winter’s hibernation. It’s important they gain weight during the summer and fall, since they survive on their fat stores for six months through the winter. Adult male bears typically weigh between 700 and 900 pounds in mid-summer and often weigh over 1,200 pounds by the late summer and fall. The park encourages voters to consider more than just weight, however, instructing participants to vote for “the bear you believe best exemplifies fatness,” be that through change in a bear’s size, its personality, or the obstacles it overcame on its path to beefiness. This year, Bear Force One came out on top.
Smithsonian Magazine quotes Fat Bear Week creator and a former Katmai park ranger Mike Fitz as saying, “He is the largest bear I’ve ever seen. He’s always super fat in the fall, and he’s just a great bear to watch… a tough competitor, one of the more dominant bears at the waterfall. We don’t know exactly how big he is, but he is a giant among bears. It may be a long time before we see another bear as big as him.”
Bear Force One has also been on a winning streak lately. After ousting an aggressive bear called 856 from a prime fishing spot along Brooks River, 747 has been spotted catching and eating 15 sockeye salmon within the span of just a few hours. That’s roughly 67,000 calories in an afternoon. It’s this discipline and focus that drove him to victory over 901, who nearly tripled in size over the summer and easily defeated defending champion and four-time winner 480 Otis by more than 23,000 votes in an earlier round.
While the bears don’t receive anything for winning, and the competition is held completely virtually, people still get deeply invested, as evidenced by an earlier contest between 747 and another bear named Holly. Though Holly initially appeared to be the winner, the park reported that she received a high number of suspicious votes late in the voting period. “While not unheard of, it is very uncommon for a bear to come back late in the day like that,” Candice Rush, a spokesperson for the website that hosts the competition, explained.
To prevent future voter fraud, the online system now has a Captcha test. Ultimately, the park threw out several thousand fraudulent ballots and announced that 747 beat Holly in the semi-final by over 7,000 votes, clearing the way for the bear’s legitimate victory and title of 2022’s champion.
Congratulations Bear Force One. Looking forward to another legitimate contest next year.