The lighthearted pre-hibernation competition between the massive bears of Alaska's Katmai Park starts on Oct. 4
It's almost time to vote for your favorite big bear of Brooks River!
Katmai National Park's Fat Bear Week — an annual celebration of wild bears putting on weight to prepare for hibernation — kicks off Oct. 4. The 2023 tournament, which will lightheartedly pit hibernator against hibernator, was announced by the National Park Service (NPS) on Sept. 21, and comes nine years after the first Fat Bear Week in 2014.
The tournament is simple: Fat Bear Week's official website allows fans of big bears to vote for their favorite among those found frolicking around Brooks River, which the NPS describes as "one of the last great salmon runs left on earth."
In previous years, voters have been encouraged to use "any criteria they see fit" to pick the champion of Fat Bear Week.
According to Naomi Boak, the media ranger of Katmai National Park and Preserve, the local bears in Alaska get "as heavy as possible" to prepare for hibernation.
"We have some of the largest bears on the planet," Boak told NPR, adding, "The biggest guys can get to be between 1,000 and 1,400 pounds."
"Fat Bear Week highlights the accomplishments of these burly bruins and shines a spotlight on the healthy ecosystem in which they can thrive," the NPS shared in a 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."
Voting kicks off this Thursday for Fat Bear Junior — a version of the tournament designed for younger bears. Main tournament voting runs from Oct. 4 – 10. On Oct. 10, the 2023 Fat Bear Week Champion will be crowned and get a "hero's send-off into hibernation."
Last year, the appropriately named 747 — described as a "skilled and efficient angler" — won Fat Bear Week, weighing in at an estimated 1,400 pounds and earning 68,105 votes during the final round of voting.
"And what do the winners get? Six months of restful solitude," NPS notes in a release. "But the real winners are all the healthy bears and all those who participate in the web’s favorite week of the year."
Before voting kicks off, fans of Fat Bear Week can scope out this year's contenders enjoying Brooks River through Explore.org's bear cams.
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