Many beloved events and activities have been canceled this year, but one has weathered the pandemic: Fat Bear Week. The annual competition, which kicks off on Wednesday, asks voters to decide which brown bear at Brooks River in Alaska's Katmai National Park has been most successful in packing on the pounds before winter.
And only one plump ursine can be crowned 2020's Fattest Bear.
Bears have been matched up in a single-elimination tournament, complete with a March Madness-style bracket showing their names, numbers and photos, according to a news release from the park. The bear with the most votes moves on to the next round. Each day online voters decide which bears will advance in the pairings until the final vote on October 6. The matchups are open to voting from 12-10 p.m. ET each day.
The tournament, which was born in 2014, could be a nail biter. Reigning champion 435 Holly is defending her title against throngs of other hefty competitors, including 480 Otis, a past victor multiple times over.
While many may never make it to the remote national park to judge the portly creatures themselves, live bear cams give fans a look into the lives of the majestic beasts as they prepare for winter by chowing down.
Here's how to participate in #FatBearWeek: this is an elimination tournament to determine who will be crowned 2020's fattest bear on the Brooks River. For each pairing of bears, you will be given the opportunity to vote on our new #FatBearWeek website, https://t.co/bcJqAzVU3F pic.twitter.com/wCQTu4zUmM— Katmai National Park (@KatmaiNPS) September 29, 2020
"A fat bear is a healthy bear, and it's something to celebrate," Andrew Lavalle, then a park ranger at Katmai National Park, told CBS News in 2018. He explained at the time that brown bears have to eat a year's worth of food in six months to prepare for hibernation.
Bears don't eat or drink during hibernation and lose one-third of their body weight, according to Fat Bear Week's voting site. So, whether they make it through the winter months depends on "accumulating ample fat reserves before entering the den," the site explains.
The creatures chow down on the "richest, most easily obtainable foods" available, which typically means salmon in Katmai National Park. According to the site, dozens of bears congregate at Brooks River to chow down on salmon from the end of June until the middle October.