There Can Be Only One Fattest Bear, and Now We Know Who It is

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Brown bear 747 received 47,055 votes in his championship matchup against 32 Chunk. (National Park Service/N. Boak)

Update Wednesday, Oct 7, 2020

There can be only one.

And this year the one is 747, who bested 32 Chunk to win Fat Bear Week 2020.

Full disclosure, our newsroom was pulling for Chunk. However, we nod our collective caps to 747, a bear that "typically keeps his status by sheer size alone" according to tournament organizers. And this year he seemed particularly proficient at piling on the pounds.

A before and after pair of photos showing brown bears 747 weight gain.

What is 747 going to do now that he has been crowned the fattest of them all? More salmon snacking and then, sleep. Good call 747, good call.

For those of us who can't hibernate through the rest of 2020, the bear cams stream on. Until next year, fellow fat bear fans!

Original Post

The events of 2020 have not only stripped our lives of routine, but also of celebrations the parties and traditions that can help us shake off an interminable workweek or even a bad mood, or mark the transition from one season to another.

But there is one event that 2020 can't touch (knock, nay pound our fists on wood): Fat Bear Week, a competition that, as it turns out, is the ideal event in a pandemic: The contestants are animals, the activities are online and the objective is survival. The competition celebrates brown bears' efforts to prepare for hibernation they must eat a year's worth of food in six months, and though salmon are plentiful, so is the competition.

Here's what you need to know about this year's event:

When is it:
Wednesday, Sept. 30, to Tuesday, Oct. 6. Voting is open daily 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. Pacific.

What it is
Fat Bear Week is a single-elimination tournament (think March Madness) featuring the brown bears of Brooks River in Katmai National Park in daily online matchups. The public votes for the bear that they think is the fattest or has the potential to become the fattest. The winner of Fat Bear Week is crowned on Fat Tuesday, naturally.

What to do:
Learn about the 12 contestants. Half are identified by numbers only, and the other half also have names. There's 747 who "typically keeps his status by sheer size alone"; defending champ and quintessential momma bear, 435 Holly; and 32 Chunk, an 1,100-pound enigma who will "wait patiently to scavenge leftover salmon." Each of the 12 has advantages ( like size), disadvantages (age, injury) and charms (fuzzy ears).

Once you know the bears a bit, fill out a bracket and vote every day. You must enter an email to vote, a security measure to prevent miscreants from casting multiple votes on the same day. Don't mess with the integrity of Fat Bear Week, lest the wrath of the entire nature-loving internet reign down upon thee. I mean, c'mon, give us this one nice thing!

Watch the Brooks River webcams. Fat Bear Week's main attraction. You'll see bears fish, swim and, well, chill. You'll see salmon jump, gulls twitter. There's even an underwater camera. Sometimes you'll log on and no bears will be present at the falls, but you'll find yourself exhaling at the serenity of flowing water and an open sky. Other times you'll find a bear lumbering up the river, and you'll lean into your screen, hypnotized by the rhythmic motion of their massive haunches.

Devour the exhaustive bear FAQ at the Katmai National Park website and attend one of the live Q & A sessions on YouTube with Katmai National Park rangers. Questions about "bears, salmon, and Katmai" are welcome.

A full schedule of events is pinned to the top of the comments section on the web cam.

To get the most out of Fat Bear Week, join the water cooler conversation by following the hashtags #FatBearWeek and #BearCam and and Katmai National Park on social media. You can also chat in the comments section on the live bearcam, the internet version of a trailside scrum of humans observing a rarely seen animal in the distance, everyone stopped in communal awe.