Fat Bear finalists face off after cheating scandal rocks voting

(CNN) — Two bears are facing off on Fat Bear Tuesday, just days after a cheating scandal disrupted Sunday’s semi final.

Veteran champ 747 is being challenged in the Fat Bear Week finals by rising star 901. Voting begins at 12 p.m. ET.

It might have been a different story for 747 if officials hadn’t detected vote tampering on Sunday.

“A Fat Bear Week scandal for the ages. Someone stuffed the ballot box!,” Explore.org said on Twitter Sunday evening. The organization heads up Fat Bear Week in Alaska’s Katmai National Park & Preserve, where brown bears congregate on the salmon-packed Brooks River before hibernating for the winter.

Officials got suspicious when 747’s opponent, 435 Holly, roared back from trailing by 6,000 votes in just a couple of hours, Explore.org’s Candice Rusch told CNN Travel via email.

“While not unheard of, it is very uncommon for a bear to come back late in the day like that. We ended up finding just over 9,000 spam votes,” Rusch said.

There were some spam votes for 747 as well, “maybe to throw us off?”

Explore.org added a captcha feature to the poll, and it appears to be working.

“We dont want to share too much about the process we used to sort out the spam votes, as we don’t want to teach the spammers how to spam better,” Rusch said.

The fake votes were discarded, and past days’ votes were reviewed.

The last bears standing

In the end, 747 prevailed over 435 Holly, with 37,940 tallied for 747 in the recount.

Now 747, the 2020 champion who shares his name with the iconic airplane, faces off with rising newcomer 901.

She’s a female who, if she conceived earlier this year, could return to Brooks River next year with her first litter of cubs. Is 901 eating for more than one? Time will tell.

She certainly is making an impressive showing this Fat Bear Week, with a decisive defeat Monday of 128 Grazer, a defensive mother bear with “conspicuously blond ears” who first appeared on the Brooks River scene as a young cub in 2005.

“Rising star 901 with another landslide vote day. Is there anything this girl can’t do?,” Explore.org tweeted on Monday.

The annual 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.

And unlike basketball’s March Madness, the public can actually participate in and sway this contest.

Top image: 901 was already plenty plump on September 18, 2022. (L. Law / Explore.org)

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