Hackers attempted to tip the scales of an election for the fattest bear in an Alaskan park but the National Park Service sniffed them out
- An undemocratic process almost spoiled Fat Bear Week when some users flooded voting with fake emails.
- According to organizers, they caught a campaign that boosted one brown bear's vote tally by 9,000 votes.
A flurry of fake votes threatened to throw the balance of the annual Fat Bear Week competition at the Katmai National Park in Alaska, a tournament where online users get to vote for their favorite beefed-up brown bears as they fatten themselves to survive the harsh winter ahead.
According to Rolling Stone, the voting scandal occurred over the past two days as the tournament-style voting bracket held it's semi-final voting run-offs for the bears. The organizers told Rolling Stone that as the competition neared voting for the final two contenders on Tuesday, they caught a surge of votes coming from fake emails and suspicious IP addresses.
During Sunday's run-off between bear 435, also known as Holly, and bear 747, bad actors attempted to rig the contest.
"747 was winning was leading in votes for the whole day and by quite a substantial amount," Amber Kraft, the Interpretation and Education Program Manager for the National Park Service told Rolling Stone. "When there were just a few hours of voting left we noticed that 435 Holly received over 9,000 votes in a very short period of time."
Holly, a veteran blonde-furred female adult bear, was the competition's winner in 2019. The park wrote that her fur coat and body "resembles the shape and color of a lightly toasted marshmallow."
747 was named after the Boeing airplane and is a behemoth competitor with a "low-hanging belly" who swept the tournament and won in 2020, according to the park. The male bear weighs as much as 1,400 pounds and is one of the largest brown bears on earth.
"Most bears recognize they cannot compete with him physically and they yield space upon his approach," park officials wrote on their website. Bear 901, a finalist on Tuesday, is the new kid on the block.
—explore.org (@exploreorg) October 10, 2022
NPS did not immediately respond to Insider's inquiry as to whether there was any voting fraud during Tuesday's final vote.
Once the fake emails, votes, and unruly IP addresses were identified, 747 was in fact named the victor – and is competing in Tuesday's finals.
The competition is used to educate the public about the brown bears' dwindling habitats as they hunt and feast on salmon to prepare for winter hibernation. Park officials said that no previous rounds contained voting fraud as they conducted a review early this week, and a CAPTCHA box was added to keep bots away.
"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," Kraft told Rolling Stone. "We hope that the awareness that Fat Bear Week brings will grow into caring and action in whatever way makes the most sense for each individual."
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