By Forrest Brown, CNN
Spring is for skinny bears and March Madness basketball.
Fall, however, is for fat bears — and for Katmai National Park & Preserve’s annual Fat Bear Week and its accompanying tournament of crowning a chubby champion for 2022.
And unlike that bracket-busting basketball tourney, you can actually participate in and sway this contest. Online voting by the public started Wednesday.
The contest is “a way to celebrate the resilience, adaptability and strength of Katmai’s brown bears,” the park says on its website.
The 12 heavyweights have been in training for the big event since emerging from hibernation, foraging on all the salmon and other food nature provides at this park in coastal southwest Alaska.
Katmai goes all out with the promotion on social media such as Twitter with brackets and the works.
The park also provides colorful bios and informative before/after photos of the adorable (but nevertheless formidable) brown bear contestants on its website.
For instance, 32 Chunk is “consistently one of the largest and most dominant bears at the falls. In previous years, he weighed an estimated 1,200 lbs in fall. He frequently occupies the best fishing spots on the river and has access to the best mating opportunities.”
And unlike March Madness with separate men’s and women’s teams, female bears get in on the action in the same contest.
The park says “128 Grazer is one of the larger and more dominant females to fish [Brooks Falls]. She can be an especially defensive and assertive bear when she has cubs, or when defending a prime fishing location.”
Voting started at noon ET Wednesday and runs through October 11, or Fat Bear Tuesday, when the final two contestants face off. Click here to see the matchups and get instructions on how to vote.
At Katmai, the Brooks River provides these brown bears with a bounty.
“Perhaps no other river on Earth offers bears the chance to feed on salmon for so long,” the voting site explains.
The live cam from the river is a popular online feature, garnering about 1,060 viewers at 12:50 p.m. ET Thursday, for example.
The contest is fun way to highlight the rhythm of life for bears as they prepare for their winter hibernation.
In that time, “bears do not eat or drink and can lose one-third of their body weight,” the website says. “Their winter survival depends on accumulating ample fat reserves before entering the den.”
The 2021 winner of the contest was 480 Otis, a portly veteran who has dominated the scene with wins in 2014, 2016 and 2017 as well.
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