Alaska’s Katmai National Park & Preserve has crowned its annual Fat Bear Week winner — a bruin so substantial he’s named after a 747 jet airliner — after detecting nearly disastrous vote tampering.
747, weighing an estimated 1,400 pounds, ate so much salmon he eclipsed 11 other bears in the competition — but still nearly lost.
The Alaskan park has held this contest for nearly a decade to highlight its bears as they feast to prepare for hibernation. This year’s competition included a dozen bears along the Brooks River, livestreamed by Explore.org, and invited people to cast votes online from Oct. 5 until Tuesday.
The chunky 747 seemed to cruise toward victory until Sunday night, when a bear called 435 Holly overcame a 6,000-vote deficit to take the lead.
Explore said an investigation revealed that “someone stuffed the ballot box” in what the organization called a “Fat Bear Week scandal for the ages.”
“While not unheard of, it is very uncommon for a bear to come back late in the day like that,” Candice Rush of Explore told CNN. “We ended up finding just over 9,000 spam votes.”
Explore described 747 as “typically very fat with a low-hanging belly” and said “few brown bears ever grow as large as the bear who shares an identification number with a jet airplane.” 747, tagged in 2004, has “become one of the largest brown bears on Earth,” Explore said. He also won Fat Bear Week in 2020.
These bears typically eat around 500 pounds of salmon during the summer as they prepare for winter, when they’ll lose up to one-third of their body weight during hibernation.
Bear 901, an adult female with a voracious appetite that may have been heightened by pregnancy, mounted a formidable challenge this year.
“Female bears such as 901 need ample body fat to support their survival in hibernation as well as the growth of newborn cubs,” Explore explained. “901’s efforts throughout the summer are a potential investment in more than her own individual survival.”
Holly 435, however, appeared to be 747’s most daunting opponent — until park officials added a CAPTCHA spam-prevention feature to the voting site and reviewed the fraudulent votes.
In a tweet Tuesday night, Explore announced 747 as the returning champ: “THIS 747 IS CLEARED FOR LANDING.”