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Fat Bear Week finalists press ahead amid vote cheating scandal

Explore.org said spam votes were entered to possibly "throw us off?" during this week's tally
Explore.org
Posted at 2:48 PM, Oct 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-11 16:48:37-04

Explore.org's Fat Bear Week contest continues into the semi-final as a vote-cheating scandal had only temporarily disrupted the fun.

Officials with the organization, which heads up the competition to vote on bear favorites as they eat before they hibernate in Alaska's Katmai National Park and Preserve, detected errors in the voting and quickly flagged the issue.

"Someone stuffed the ballot box!" Explore.org said in a tweet.

The competition allows nature fans to watch the bears on live stream cameras on the Explore.org website, and then a link will direct site users to vote on their favorites.

The bears are seen gathering in the salmon-packed waters of the Brooks River, trying to feast and fatten up before they head into their yearly winter hibernation. The competition raises awareness for the bears and the efforts to preserve the natural environment of the area.

When the staff at Explore.org noticed that two top contenders in the contest were receiving suspicious vote counts, they started to look deeper.

One bear called "747" was in the lead with votes, but its close challenger, "435 Holly" began seeing a suspicious vote spike that jumped by 6,000 votes in just a couple of hours.

Explore.org tweeted that after a review, the correct total came to 37,940 for "747" and then 30,430 for "435."

Explore.org's Candice Rusch told Scripps News, "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. It appears as if the spamming stopped when 435 took a decent lead. There were some spam votes for 747 as well."

The organization said the "fake votes" were discarded and all of the votes in the previous days were reviewed, singling they were confident voting had been put back on track.

Rusch said, "We don't 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. But we did add a captcha to the poll, which is working to prevent future spamming."

Katmai park says the competition is ""a way to celebrate the resilience, adaptability and strength of Katmai's brown bears."

"The important thing to remember is that despite which bear wins the most votes in the Fat Bear Week competition, they are all winners. Bears get fat to survive and the health of Katmai’s ecosystem, as demonstrated by the sustained run of salmon, clean water, and thriving flora and fauna, enables their survival. Bears don't actually get anything from competing in or winning Fat Bear Week. Instead, it is a way to raise awareness about brown bears: survival, competition, hunger, reproduction, conflict, skill, adaptation, learning, consequences, and the importance of protecting a healthy ecosystem for wildlife and for humans," Rusch said.

You can find profiles for the bears of Fat Bear Week on Explore.org's website.