Hey, fans of the annual Fat Bear Week online contest out of Alaska – it’s on! It was touch and go there this past weekend while politicians in Washington raced to secure a last-minute deal to keep federal government services running until mid-November. Fat Bear Week was one of the programs that would have been halted during the shutdown. But with a stopgap funding measure in place, bear fans can now turn their attention to the voting that matters to them: selecting a winner in the annual contest for the big lugs of Katmai National Park & Preserve in Alaska. The 12 contestants were revealed on Monday, and the voting opened at noon Wednesday ET, according to Katmai’s webpage on the contest. Voting will conclude on October 10. The National Park Service said more than 1 million votes were cast for the 2022 contest, which was won by hefty bear 747 after a cheating scandal briefly disrupted the voting process. How it works and this year’s fat bears Anyone who follows NCAA basketball brackets each March will recognize this stripped-down version. “Rangers create a tournament style bracket pitting individual bears against each other. The public then votes to see who will advance each round,” according to the webpage. You can go to www.fatbearweek.org to vote. The 2023 lineup includes fan favorite Otis, who “moves less to catch more” according to the announcement video, and last year’s winner 747, who is rarely challenged for prime fishing spots. Now it’s time to meet the contenders: • 32 Chunk: A large adult male with narrowly set eyes, a prominent brow ridge and a distinctive scar across his muzzle. Even at his leanest, Chunk carries substantial fat reserves. Chunk on!• 128 Grazer: She’s a large adult female with a long, straight muzzle and blond ears. During late summer and fall, Grazer has grizzled, light brown fur and is often one of the fattest bears of Brooks River, where many of the Katmai bears feed.• 151 Walker: A large adult male, he’s a frequent user of Brooks Falls and often has easy access to productive fishing spots because of his size and disposition.• 164 Bucky Dent: A medium-sized adult male, he created his own fishing spot at the very base of Brooks Falls at the edge of the deepest plunge pool, a place other bears seldom use.• 284 Electra: She’s a medium-sized adult with perky ears, a long neck and prominent shoulder hump. She’ll fish the lower river and has two known litters of cubs, whom she fiercely protects.• 402 bear: A large adult female, 402 has medium brown fur and crescent or apostrophe-shaped ears when viewed from front or back. Her claim to fame: Eight known litters, the most of any bear currently at Brooks River.• 428 bear: A pudgy, 3.5-year-old subadult bear, 428 has blond ears and grizzled, light brown fur. As an independent bear in 2023, she’s navigated the river without her mama’s guidance for the first time.• 435 Holly: She’s large adult female with blond ears and pale, tan-colored claws. By early autumn, she is usually very fat with grizzled blond fur. She’s a remarkable mom, having raised one injured cub and adopting another cub years later. She’s currently a single bear.• 480 Otis: He’s a medium-large adult male with a blocky muzzle and a floppy right ear. Otis was 4 to 6 years old when he was first identified in 2001, and he’s now one of the older male bears at Brooks River.• 747 bear: The 2022 winner is a large adult male with a blocky muzzle and floppy ears. He has become a giant among bears, once estimated to weigh 1,400 pounds (635 kilograms).• 901 bear: She’s a medium-sized adult female with blond-rimmed, triangular ears. 901’s fur is golden brown in early summer and grizzled-brown in late summer. One of her three cubs disappeared in mid-September.• 806 Jr.: Rounding out the list is this male first-year cub with long, shaggy brown fur and a short, pointed muzzle. This feisty club fishes with mom (806) and on several occasions this year was swept downstream or over the waterfall. Learn much more about the 2023 bears and see before/after shots at this NPS site or at Explore.org. Live cam The live cam from the Brooks River at Katmai is a popular online feature. The contest is fun way to highlight the rhythm of life for bears foraging on the salmon of the Brooks and other rivers and streams at this park in coastal southwest Alaska as they prepare for their winter hibernation. For these bears, fat is good. They must eat a year’s worth of food in six months in order to survive their long winter slumber.