On Tuesday, the internet crowned bear 747, a.k.a. “Bear Force One,” the winner of Fat Bear Week 2022. The estimated 1,400-pound giant is over 20 years old, according to Mashable’s Mark Kaufman, and he previously captured the title in 2020. This year, he defeated bear 901, a six-year-old female, in the final round by more than 10,000 votes, per Anna Betts of Buzzfeed News.
The annual online competition is a single-elimination bracket of brown bears in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, and winners are decided by the highest number of votes. The park hosts more than 2,200 bears, according to Buzzfeed News, but only a lucky twelve are selected to vie for the title each year.
The votes are in- you’ve decided to upgrade to fish class & fly w/ 747!— Katmai National Park (@KatmaiNPS) October 12, 2022
747 was deemed an order of magnitude more massive than 901, who experienced troubling tummy turbulence enroute. 901 made a strong start in her 1st #FatBearWeek appearance. Expect big things in the future! pic.twitter.com/i6IPy2ajEw
The bears fatten up by eating salmon along the Brooks River in preparation for the winter’s hibernation, write CNN’s Marnie Hunter and Forrest Brown. It’s important they gain weight during the summer and fall, since they survive on their fat stores for six months through the winter. Adult male bears typically weigh between 700 and 900 pounds in mid-summer and often weigh over 1,200 pounds by the late summer and fall, according to Explore.org, which hosts the competition.
But Fat Bear Week isn’t just about which bear weighs the most—voters also consider the change in a bear’s size, its personality and the obstacles it overcame on its path to beefiness, writes the Washington Post’s Natalie B. Compton. In its open-ended guidance, the voting website instructs participants to vote for “the bear you believe best exemplifies fatness.”
The bulkiness of 747, who previously won the competition in 2020, certainly contributed to his victory this year. “He is the largest bear I’ve ever seen,” Mike Fitz, Fat Bear Week creator and a former Katmai park ranger, tells Buzzfeed News. “He’s always super fat in the fall, and he’s just a great bear to watch… a tough competitor, one of the more dominant bears at the waterfall.”
“We don’t know exactly how big he is, but he is a giant among bears,” Fitz says to the Post. “It may be a long time before we see another bear as big as him.”
Though bear 901 ultimately fell to 747 in the finals, the younger of the two behemoths still had a strong performance in her first-ever competition. She easily defeated defending champion and four-time winner 480 Otis by more than 23,000 votes in an earlier round, per the Post. “Expect big things in the future!” Katmai National Park said of 901 in a tweet.
The young adult 901 has blond-rimmed, triangular ears and developed her fishing and social skills this year. She appeared to triple in size over the summer and could be pregnant, according to the Post. Bears mate in the late spring or early summer, but fertilized eggs wait until the bear returns to their den in the fall to implant in the uterus, per Explore.org.
For years, the Brooks River was dominated by an aggressive bear called 856. But bear 747 took over last summer, displacing the former alpha from a desirable fishing spot, per Mashable.
The winning bear is “a skilled and efficient angler,” writes Explore.org. Within the span of just a few hours, Fitz has seen 747 eat 15 sockeye salmon, which equates to roughly 67,000 calories, wrote Mashable in 2018. The bear won’t receive any additional salmon to celebrate his victory, though—or any reward, for that matter.
“The bears don’t get anything from Fat Bear Week at all,” Fitz tells Buzzfeed News. “They don’t know what’s going on. This is an imaginary and virtual competition.”
The contest is more about raising public awareness of the bears. “It’s important to think about how bears survive, why they survive, what they need to survive, and also to celebrate the ecosystem at Katmai that supports them,” Fitz tells Buzzfeed News.
Even though the competition has low stakes, people still get heavily invested in the outcome. The park revealed on Sunday via Twitter that there was a case of voter fraud during the semi-final matchup between 747 and another bear, Holly.
Though Holly initially appeared to be the winner, the park reported that she received a high number of suspicious votes late in the voting period, per NPR’s Bill Chappell. “While not unheard of, it is very uncommon for a bear to come back late in the day like that,” Explore.org’s Candice Rush tells NPR.
To prevent future voter fraud, the online system now has a Captcha test, per NPR. Ultimately, the park threw out several thousand fraudulent ballots and announced that 747 beat Holly in the semi-final by over 7,000 votes, clearing the way for the bear’s legitimate victory and title of 2022’s champion.