May The Fattest Bear Win: Voting Opens For National Park's Pre-Hibernation Contest
The American people are at the precipice of a big decision: Which brown bear at Katmai National Park and Preserve is the fattest?
That's the question at the heart of the Alaskan park's Fat Bear Week competition. The online bracket pits bear against bear, and voters choose the one they think has packed on the most pounds to prepare for hibernation. Some of the biggest bears in the competition were estimated in 2019 to be well over 1,000 pounds.
Voting is open until Wednesday, and there are already some favorites. One is a brown bear known simply as 747.
"He's an absolute unit in the truest sense of the meme," park ranger Mike Fitz said during a livestream to introduce the contestants. "A real tank. A giant among bears. He's the largest bear I've ever seen, and likely one of the largest bears alive on Earth."
Voter Emily Baer (no relation) is a 747 fan.
"He's a big boy," Baer told NPR's Morning Edition. "He has the angle that I like where you can see his little tail."
Another fan favorite is last year's Fat Bear Week champion: 435 Holly. She's had several litters of cubs and is one of the older bears in the competition.
She has beefed up this year. The website describes her appearance like "the shape and color of a toasted marshmallow."
She's a favorite of ranger Naomi Boak, who called her "the queen of corpulence."
In total, a dozen bears are vying for this year's crown.
But for the bears, it's not all fun and games. Fitz said the bears need to gain weight to survive the winter.
"Fat is the fuel that powers a brown bear's wintertime survival," Fitz told NPR. "When hibernating, bears do not eat, they don't drink, they do not urinate, they don't defecate."
Online, though, the bears and their extra pounds bring a spirit of competition.
Some voters base their selection only on which bear they think is the fattest. Others are more concerned with which bear has the most compelling back story or cutest pose.
Voter Samantha Manaktola is more of a Bear Week purist who tends to judge the match-ups only on girth.
Fat Bear Week, she says, is "uncomplicated joy."
"It's just the bears are fat, and that's nice," Manaktola said. "And as a human who is also fat, it's just nice to see all of these memes that are like 'fatness is nice and we enjoy this.' "
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