After online cheating scandal, Fat Bear Week has its 2022 winner

There’s a new champion brown bear in Alaska’s Katmai National Park & Preserve.

After an online cheating scandal disrupted the semifinals, a winner was announced Tuesday night in the park’s annual Fat Bear Week contest.

Bear 747 collected the most votes, triumphing over his worthy challenger 901.

The Twitter announcement hit at 9 p.m. ET and excitedly announced: “THIS 747 IS CLEARED FOR LANDING. Introducing your 2022 Fat Bear Week champion.”

This is not 747’s first big win. He also took the title in 2020.

Few bears ever reach 747’s girth, according to his online profile on Explore.org, the organization that runs the contest.

It says he’s one of the biggest brown bears on Earth, possibly weighing as much as 1,400 pounds (635 kg). He’s been working hard at fattening up: he fished at the park’s Brooks Falls nearly every day from late June to mid-September.

Some bears might resort to aggression to exert dominance. Not so much for this big bear. “747 typically keeps his status by sheer size alone,” his profile says.

“He shows that skill and size influence success in the bear world.”

Runner-up Bear 901 was first identified as a 2.5-year-old in 2018. According to her online profile, “she fishes throughout Brooks River and sometimes is keen to defend her fishing spots from other bears. As a young adult in 2022, she continued to refine her fishing and social skills.

“This is a lifelong process for brown bears, but it is particularly important for young adult females. Bear 901 may soon experience a new challenge: raising cubs.”

It’s crucial for pregnant female bears to pack on ample body fat to support survival in hibernation and to give birth to healthy cubs.

Voting scandal

This all might have been a different story if officials hadn’t detected the vote tampering on Sunday.

“A Fat Bear Week scandal for the ages. Someone stuffed the ballot box!,” Explore.org said on Twitter on Sunday evening.

Officials got suspicious when 747’s semi-final opponent, 435 Holly, roared back from trailing by 6,000 votes in just a couple of hours, Explore.org’s Candice Rusch told CNN Travel via email.

“While not unheard of, it is very uncommon for a bear to come back late in the day like that. We ended up finding just over 9,000 spam votes,” Rusch said.

There were some spam votes for 747 as well, “maybe to throw us off?”

Explore.org added a captcha feature to the poll, Rusch said.

The fake votes were discarded, and previous days’ votes were reviewed. In the end, 747 prevailed over 435 Holly.

Celebrating the bears

The annual contest is “a way to celebrate the resilience, adaptability and strength of Katmai’s brown bears,” Katmai said last week on its website.

Each year, brown bears congregate on the salmon-packed Brooks River before hibernating for the winter. The live cam from the river is a popular online feature.

All 12 heavyweights in the 2022 contest had been in training for the big event since emerging from hibernation, foraging on all the salmon and other food nature provides at this park in coastal southwest Alaska.

Explore.org provided colorful bios and informative before/after photos of the adorable (but nevertheless formidable) brown bear contestants on its website.