Fat Bear Week returns for its 10th year on Wednesday, October 4, 2023, and fans of the event are breathing a collective sigh of relief. A government shutdown would have affected the country’s national parks, including Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska, which hosts the viral tournament each year. Fortunately, congress was able to narrowly avoid a shutdown on Saturday night, just days before Fat Bear Week is scheduled to take place. Whether you’re a longtime voter or just hearing about it for the first time, there are some important things to know before participating in Fat Bear Week 2023.
Fat Bear Week started as Fat Bear Tuesday in 2014. Former Katmai park ranger Mike Fitz and his colleagues came up with the idea after reading wildlife webcam viewers’ comments celebrating the bears’ pre-hibernation transformation from spring to autumn. March Madness-style brackets featuring before-and-after photos of the bears were published to Facebook, where followers could vote on which bear they thought was fattest. Since 2015, the competition has been a week-long event.
Fat Bear Week has since moved off Facebook so more people can participate. For the third year in a row, the park also hosted a Fat Bear Junior competition, which concluded on September 29. For the main event, this year has got some pretty serious contenders, including last year's champ 747, who has been named Fattest Bear twice in three years.
To cast your vote in the 2023 brackets, you can head to Explore.org, where Fitz is now the resident naturalist. Voting will open every day at 12 p.m. ET until Tuesday, October 10, when the most corpulent contender will be decided.
According to the organizers of Fat Bear Week, the heaviest bear doesn’t always claim the top honor. Fans can vote for the bear that gained the most weight over the year, or simply the bear they like the most. A good photo that shows off their hibernation-ready bod in all its chunky glory also doesn’t hurt. To make sure your voice is heard in this year’s competition, cast your vote here.
A version of this story ran in 2021; it has been updated for 2023.