Hackers tried to hijack Alaska’s Fat Bear Week

  • An undemocratic process nearly derailed Fat Bear Week when some users flooded the vote with fake emails.
  • According to the organizers, they caught a campaign that increased the number of votes of a brown bear by 9,000 votes.
  • Voters will decide the winner on Tuesday as bear 747 and bear 901 compete to be named the strongest bear.

A flurry of fake votes has threatened to tip the balance of the annual Fat Bear Week contest in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, a tournament where internet users can vote for their favorite brown bears as they fatten up to survive the harsh winter ahead.

According to Rolling Stone, the voting scandal occurred over the past two days as tournament-style voting conducted the second rounds of semifinal voting for the Bears. Organizers told Rolling Stone that as the contest neared voting for the final two candidates on Tuesday, they caught a wave of votes coming from fake emails and suspicious IP addresses.

During Sunday’s second round between bear 435, also known as Holly, and bear 747, bad actors tried to rig the contest.

“The 747 was leading in votes for the entire day and by a pretty significant amount,” Amber Kraft, Director of Interpretive and Education Programs for the National Park Service, told Rolling Stone. “With only a few hours of voting left, we noticed that 435 Holly received over 9,000 votes in a very short amount of time.”

Holly, a veteran blonde-furred adult female bear, was the 2019 contest winner. The park wrote that her fur coat and body “resemble the shape and color of a lightly toasted marshmallow.”

The 747 is named after the Boeing airplane and is a behemoth competitor with a “low belly” that swept the tournament and won in 2020, according to the park. The male bear weighs up to 1,400 kg and is one of the largest brown bears on earth.

“Most bears recognize that they cannot physically compete with him and leave space when he approaches,” park officials wrote on their website. Bear 901, a finalist on Tuesday, is the new kid on the block.

The NPS did not immediately respond to Insider’s inquiry into whether there was vote rigging during Tuesday’s final vote.

Once the fake emails, votes and rogue IP addresses were detected, 747 was actually named the winner – and will compete in Tuesday’s finals.

The contest is used to educate the public about brown bear habitats that are shrinking as they hunt and feast on salmon in preparation for hibernation. Park officials said no previous rounds contained voting fraud as they conducted an audit earlier this week, and a CAPTCHA box was added to keep bots at bay.

“Bears grow fat to survive, and the health of Katmai’s ecosystem, as evidenced by the constant flow of salmon, clean water and thriving flora and fauna, allows for their survival,” Kraft told Rolling Stone. “We hope that the awareness that Fat Bear Week brings will translate into care and action in whatever way is most meaningful to each individual.”

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