Thousands of people are tuning in this week to watch Fat Bear Week, the popular competition to vote for the largest bear at the Katmai national park in Alaska.
The annual tournament evaluates a bear’s “success in preparation for winter hibernation”, according to the tournament’s website.
The March Madness-style tournament runs from Wednesday 5 October to Tuesday 11 October, when the winner will be announced. Participants in the event, organized by the National Park Service and Explore.org, can vote for their favorite bear, whether skinny or large, through a bracket online.
The bear with the most votes advances to the next round, and the two final bears on the bracket will challenge each other virtually next week. Voters can follow the “candidates” on webcams in the park as they fish for sockeye salmon and walk across the Brooks River.
Contestants can also view a before and after picture of each bear, as well as a small biography detailing their physical features and personalities.
The 12 competing bears are identified by numbers, and some of the more prominent ones are known by their names. This year’s contestants include 435 Holly, a female bear first identified in 2001; Bear 335, one of the youngest in the competition; and 480 Otis, the winner of four Fat Bear Week titles.
Last year, the over 25-year-old Otis won after nearly 800,000 votes were cast, with 51,230 of those for Otis. Three years ago, Otis was estimated to weigh more than 900lb.
The nine-year-old contest aims to educate the public about the fishing and survival strategies, as well as the behaviors, bears must undergo to prepare for winter. From midsummer to fall, an average male adult bear can go from weighing 600-900lb to well over 1,000lb.
The contest stretched from one day to a week since it started in 2014 as Fat Bear Tuesday.