There's at least one 2020 vote we can all get behind.
Yes, it is that time of year once more. It is Fat Bear Week.
Wednesday marks the first day of the early autumn festivities. Fat Bear Week is early October's greatest tradition, and 2020 will be the sixth year running.
All summer, brown bears in Alaska's Katmai National Park have been bulking up. The bears are on a vital mission to get as fat as possible during the warm weather. Over the course of their winter hibernation, the bears lose a third of their body mass — so stocking up on food now is a must. Essentially, the bears need to eat a years' worth of food in just six months.
Bear bulking is not only a survival skill. It is a real treat for humans to watch and marvel at.
Just check out some of this year's contenders — specifically, the before and after photos. Compared to how they looked in June or July, the bears' current state is undeniably impressive.
Here's a shot of Walker, or 151, then and now:
Walker is a feisty contestant, Katmai National Park Ranger Brooklyn White explained during a live chat revealing this year's lineup. He has a history of getting into "prolonged play fights" with other bears — but recently has become a bit more aggressive.
"Over the last few years, he has gained considerable weight — but also has been willing to throw that weight around," White said. The "up-and-comer" is going against bear 856, another highly competitive, dominant bear.
The face-off between these two Top Bears is one of the first matchups of Fat Bear Week. They will be up against ten others, including the pear-shaped Chunk (32); last year's winner, Holly (435); protective mama bear Grazer (128); or 747 — which rangers say is among the fattest bears they have ever seen.
Voting is done in rounds, organized in bracket format, not unlike March Madness.
Paring down the bracket is a task that takes "blood, sweat, and tears," Katmai National Park Ranger Naomi Boak explained during the live chat.
From a pool of 70 to 80 bears that hang out along the park's Brooks River, rangers have to decide on just 12 finalists. First, the rangers have to be able to find and photograph the bears in both early summer and fall: "You have to be a two-season bear," Boak explained.
The park rangers look out for the fattest bears, which tend to be those in the water fishing more frequently. “That’s what it takes to be a really Fat Bear," Boak said.
The rangers also consider bears with interesting backstories — which can, of course, play into voters' decisions when the time comes.
Considerations may include:
- Progress: Which bears gained the most weight this summer
- Multitasking: Mother bears making weight while also caring for cubs, for instance
- Size: Which bears are simply Fattest
Now, the bracket is set, and it's nearly time for the big vote.
How to vote for Fat Bear Week 2020
In the past, voting took place on the Katmai National Park Facebook page. This year will work a bit differently.
The park has teamed up with Explore.org — known for its hub of nature livestreams — to develop a new website for Fat Bear voting. Every day of Fat Bear Week, that day's matchups will be posted, and you can vote for your favorite Fat Bears.
You can also fill out a bracket to cast your bets at home, and check the website every day between September 30 and October 6 — also known as Fat Bear Tuesday.