UPDATE (10 October, 2018): The votes are in and 409 Beadnose has been crowned as this year's fattest bear. "Bears must eat one year’s worth of food in six short months to survive hibernation, and 409 has excelled at that," Katmai National Park stated on Facebook. "Her radiant rolls were deemed by the voting public to be this year’s most fabulous flab. Our chubby champ has a few more weeks to chow down on lingering salmon carcasses before she heads up the mountains to dig herself a den and savor her victory." Read more about Fat Bear Week below:

America’s chunkiest bear is soon to be crowned as Katmai National Park’s fourth annual Fat Bear Week contest nears its juicy conclusion. There are just two bulky bruins still in the running for the coveted title: an Alaskan brown bear called 409 Beadnose and a belly-surging beast simply dubbed 747 – a name that was randomly assigned according to Andrew LaValle, a park ranger at Katmai who runs the contest (though he did jump at the opportunity to describe the bear as a “jelly-bellied jumbo jet” on the park’s Facebook page).

409 Beadnose in all her chubby glory. Image © Katmai National Park

And it’s on this wildly entertaining Facebook page that the contest plays out. Photos taken by park rangers are used to pit the tubbiest bears against each other in head-to-head playoffs. The public (yes, you) get to vote for which bear they think is the most, er, well-rounded.

The bears of Alaska’s Katmai National Park emerged, lithe-bodied, from their winter dens about six months ago. Since then, they have been gorging themselves on calorie-rich salmon as they pack on the pounds for the colder months ahead. For the bears that are regulars at the Brooks River buffet there is no shortage of food. The area is an upstream bottleneck that traps hundreds of thousands of the 62 million salmon that have worked their way through Alaska’s Bristol Bay this year.

It’s easy pickings for the bears, which is probably why Explore.org chose this spot to set up a webcam that captures all the bellyflopping, food-stealing, salmon-gobbling action. Last summer, 49 adults and 18 cubs were identified fishing the river and many of them have fanatical followers online.

Some of those fans hedged their bets on veteran 480 Otis taking the crown for a fourth time this year, while others put their faith in Bear 856 – one of the most dominant bruins on the river. But it was 409 Beadnose – named for her park-assigned number and upturned snout – along with 747 that fought with impressive fatness to secure a spot in the final. Last year, Beadnose was sharing her salmon spoils with two cubs, but she successfully emancipated the youngsters and celebrated this year by really letting herself go.

Her place in the final is no doubt helped by a seated portrait shot that does everything to accentuate her girth. Her competition is pictured in a standing position with just inches of clearance between belly and water. “The reality is, unless we got all the bears to line up into a single file line on the same day, we’re not going to have the exact same photos,” LaValle told the Washington Post.

Bear 747 dragging his belly like a boss. Image © Katmai National Park

He also stresses that the competition is really about celebrating the ability of the Brooks River bears to do what they do best: stuff their faces until they swell by 300 pounds in preparation to lose one-third of that body mass during several months of salmon-free sleep. “While it may be entertaining for us to watch, for the bears it's a game of survival,” he told Mashable.

Make sure you cast your vote for the fattest bear. Our money is on Beadnose.

Top header image: Dan Hutcheson, Flickr