After fat bear fraud, 747 again crowned chunky champion
For the second time in three years, the jumbo jet-sized 747 has been crowned champion of Fat Bear Week.
Weighing in at nearly one ton, the voracious and voluptuous brown bear toppled his competition Tuesday during the finals for this year’s tournament — which pits the brown bears of Katmai National Park against each other in battle brackets as they bulk up for winter.
Voters don’t rely on size alone when casting their ballots. But this year, they went with the chunkiest choice. Lian Law with Katmai National Park said 747 is the largest bear at Brooks Falls and maybe one of the largest in the world.
“His dominance, combined with his fishing skills — that really allows him to build up substantial fat reserves for the winter,” Law said. “And even in early summer, when I first see this bear, you know, he is large, and he still carries the weight of his previous successes.”
That weight tipped the scales in his favor to beat feisty finalist 901, with just over 54% of the votes — 68,105 votes to 901’s 56,876.
But the competition wasn’t without drama.
On Sunday, the park announced on its official Twitter someone had spammed that night’s face-off with fraudulent votes.
Mike Fitz is a former ranger at Katmai and the resident naturalist at explore.org. Fitz oversees the competition and said several thousand fraudulent votes were cast during the matchup between 747 and Holly, a blond adult female who was the 2019 champion.
“Throughout the day, 747 had been leading, by a sizable margin,” Fitz said. “And then Holly quickly caught up and surpassed him in votes. Once the suspicious votes were filtered out, then 747 was the clear winner.”
Fitz said he had hoped that perhaps a celebrity or influencer had rallied online support for Holly that resulted in an influx of votes. But he said explore.org staff were able to identify the votes as fraudulent because of their suspicious email addresses.
Fitz said the site has since installed CAPTCHA software to prevent further scandal. And he said staff checked all the previous matchups for suspicious votes — but found them all to be clean races.
“It’s disappointing. I mean, Fat Bear Week is based on honesty, right? And it’s supposed to be a fun and good-natured virtual competition,” he said earlier this week. “It’s also interesting to me that someone cared so much to try to flip the vote for Holly.”
Fitz said the competition should really be about the stories behind the bears and the ecosystems that support them, not just who wins.
This year, those stories are reaching more people than ever. Fitz said he’s been interviewed by reporters as far away as France and Australia.
“It’s an event that spans international boundaries,” Fitz said. “And the more people that are aware of Katmai and the Bristol Bay region — and Alaska and its wild landscapes in general, I think, the better.”
It may not be just about who wins. But fans of 747 can hibernate soundly tonight knowing their pick is — certifiably and undeniably — the fattest bear.
Alaska Public Media’s Chris Klint contributed reporting.