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It's that time of year again: Fat Bear Week is back

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Fat Bear Week is back.

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FADEL: Voting begins today to decide which brown bear in Alaska's Katmai National Park is the fattest. Here's Mike Fitz, a former park ranger who helped create it nine years ago, speaking on Weekend Edition.

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MIKE FITZ: We matched up different bears, before and after photos of them in early summer and in late summer, and had the public decide who they thought was the fattest and most successful bear of the year.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Now, these days, the event features multiple rounds of voting with an official bracket and a Fat Bear Junior competition, you know, for the cute little bear cubs. The park's website also features footage from wildlife cameras of the bears chowing down on up to 40 salmon a day between June and October.

CHRISTINE KLIESRATH: They're on 24/7, pretty much.

FADEL: That's Christine Kliesrath. She's a park ranger at Katmai National Park.

MARTÍNEZ: She says every year Fat Bear Week gets bigger, and this year they're expecting more than a million votes.

KLIESRATH: Everyone has their own criteria. Some people just look for the fattest bear on the river. Some look for who's gained the most weight over the season.

FADEL: One fan favorite is Bear 480, also known as Otis, a four-time Fat Bear champion.

KLIESRATH: The old man that sits in the office and just fishes all day.

FADEL: But this event isn't just entertainment. Mike Fitz says it demonstrates the importance of salmon to the ecosystem and celebrates a rare wild landscape.

FITZ: We do live in a world that's wounded by climate change, but there are places that are doing quite well, and we should realize where they are and how we can protect them going forward.

MARTÍNEZ: You can watch the Fat Bear Week footage at explore.org and pick your own favorite fat one.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.