It's time to vote for the chonkiest bear in Katmai National Park

Bear 402, with dark brown coat, walking across a trail toward tall grass.
Experienced mama Bear 402 was recently knocked out of the competition by the hefty upstart, a young male named Bear 812 (Image credit: NPS Photo/L. Lewis)

Looking for a distraction from the dumpster fire that is the 2020 election? 

Then this is your reminder to weigh in on a very different election: Choosing the chonkiest grizzly bear in Katmai National Park as part of Fat Bear Week.The annual competition allows internet users to select the heftiest grizzly bear at the park’s Brooks River in Alaska. 

The bears are currently at the river gorging on salmon in preparation for winter hibernation. Social media’s enthusiasm for the competition is so intense that voters briefly crashed the voting website on Wednesday (Sept. 30). Bracket-style voting runs through Oct. 6, at which point a winning bear will be crowned fattest of the season. 

Related: Image gallery: Beastly bears

The voting is entirely subjective and can be based on weight gain, overall size or challenges that the bears have overcome. Wednesday saw Bear 812, a young male, defeat experienced mama bear — Bear 402. Dark brown Bear 151, nicknamed “Walker,” also beat down Bear 856, a male who has successfully thrown his weight around at the river since 2011, according to Katmai National Park. Walker is estimated to have hit the scales at 1,200 lbs. (545 kilograms) in September 2019. 

Thursday’s competition pitted male Bear 32, affectionately known as “Chunk,” against Bear 719, a mother and a social butterfly who is still sometimes spotted playing with other young bears — an usual behavior for adult females. Bear 32 won voter’s hearts and advanced to the next round. Also going head-to-head in Thursday’s round were Bear 909, the daughter of a previous Fat Bear Week champion,who beat out Bear 435, a playful cub who started out her life in January or February as a 1-lb. (0.45 kg) ball of fur and who now weighs at least 60 lbs. (27 kg). 

In Friday’s round, Walker goes up against a new challenger, Bear 480, otherwise known as Otis. Meanwhile, Bear 812 faces up against a bruiser, Bear 747, who is estimated to have tipped the scales at 1,400 pounds (636 kg) last September. 

The bears can be seen in action on the YouTube channel of webcam network Explore. Naturalists and park rangers will be live on the channel today (Oct. 2) between 2 p.m and 4 p.m. EDT to chat about what the bears are doing and to answer viewer questions. 

Katmai's grizzliest gather at Brooks River between June and October to feed on salmon, which swim upstream to spawn every year. Park visitors can gather on elevated decks to observe the bears at one of their favorite fishing spots, Brooks Falls, where salmon must leap upstream — and often end up in the waiting maw of a bear. There are approximately 2,200 grizzlies living in the national park, more than the human population of the entire Alaskan Peninsula. 

Originally published on Live Science.

Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.