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The Integrity of Fat Bear Week Has Been Marred By Ballot Stuffing

Michele Debczak
Bear 747 in his chonky glory.
Bear 747 in his chonky glory. / Katmai National Park and Preserve, Flickr // Public Domain
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As the internet becomes an increasingly unpleasant place to be, Fat Bear Week is more vital than ever. Katmai National Park’s annual bracket dedicated to determining the property’s heftiest ursine is a welcome break from social media scandals and the 24-hour news cycle. At least that was the case until recently. This year, the integrity of the competition has been compromised by ballot-stuffing—proving that we can’t have nice things.

The low-stakes tournament has been held in some form since 2014. The Alaskan national park is home to move than 2200 brown bears, and as they bulk up ahead of hibernation season, Katmai shares pictures of the beefiest contenders in a March Madness-style bracket. In early October the public gets to vote for the bear they think deserves the coveted title on Explore.org, and the winner is announced at the end of the week.

What started as a creative way for Katmai National Park to engage with followers has since exploded into a phenomenon that attracts international coverage. Popular bears now have dedicated groups of fans rooting for their success. With the event gaining so much attention, it was only a matter of time before someone tried to ruin it.

"FAT BEAR WEEK SCANDAL," the official Katmai National Park Twitter page posted on October 9. "Like bears stuff their face with fish, our ballot box, too, has been stuffed."

After announcing Bear 435 (a.k.a Holly)’s domination over Bear 747 the previous day, the park retracted her win after discarding the spam votes. The account didn’t reveal who was trying to rig the contest or for what purpose, but it did state that it’s easy to determine which votes are fraudulent. Hopefully that means the remainder of the competition will proceed without drama.

Today, Friday, October 11, is the finale of Fat Bear Week 2022, with Bear 747 facing off against Bear 901. Anyone is allowed to cast their vote once the bracket opens at 12 p.m. EST—just remember that it’s limited to one vote per person.

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