Polar Bears on the Beach?

[dcwsb inline="true"]

arctic_buggyDaniel is the San Diego Zoo’s Teen Arctic Ambassador 2009. Read his previous post, Teen Arctic Ambassador Lives Life in the North.

Today we arose to the harmonious singing voice of Robert Buchanan, the president of Polar Bears International and the “Head Bear” of our Leadership Camp. He was singing “Oh, what a beautiful morning.” The tundra was beautiful, that was true. After a wonderful breakfast, we went onto the Tundra Buggy to explore the wonders of the Arctic for three hours, but we didn’t find anything in the polar bear department. Since we didn’t see anything, we were allowed to get out of the Tundra Buggy and step on the ground. This was huge, since this was the first time we have set foot on the ground since arriving at camp in the Tundra Buggy Lodge.

Since I was coming here from San Diego, I thought I knew what the kelp would look like. Here on the Hudson Bay, it was incredible; it was black, rubbery, and leaf-like, far from the big kelp on the shores of San Diego. Turns out the polar bears like to roll around in the kelp while waiting for the Hudson Bay to freeze. That’s why some of our facilitators had to keep an eye out for polar bears sneaking up on us. Still no sign of polar bears, so back to the Lodge for lunch.

We were on our way home (Wow! I am already calling the Tundra Buggy Lodge home!), and some of us (including me) were allowed to drive the buggy.  It was beyond incredible, the size of the buggy. I am only a head taller than the wheel. It was not similar to driving a car. It felt much more powerful, but I felt okay driving it because I didn’t have to worry about hitting anyone, and as long as I stayed on the dirt road, it was easy.

After lunch, we went off again to look for a bear. It turns out that after going about 1,300 feet (400 meters) or so there was a young male taking a nap in the willows. He was a decent-size bear; he was about five years old but he was filled out, definitely well fed. He came over to investigate us and our buggy. At a few feet from the buggy, he was just about 12 or 13 feet (3 to 4 meters) from us since we are up high on the Tundra Buggy. He was so close we could see his ear tags, which meant he had been captured by the scientists who work in this area keeping track of the polar bear population. This bear had some scars on him and a bloody ear, which meant he was probably in some sort of scuffle with another bear around here.

To see all of this detail on a wild bear so close was super inspiring. I have seen the polar bears at the San Diego Zoo probably 1,000 times. And I even had the chance to spend the morning with JoAnne Simerson, the senior polar bear keeper, and the polar bears at the Zoo before I came up here (see JoAnne’s post Polar Bear Happenings). That was awesome, but this was different. Knowing that I was in his wild home made me feel the power of the polar bears. We were just here to watch him do his thing. He didn’t have any fear or even much interest in us. We were just some uninvited guests. And then it struck me, when he came over to look at us: we were in our rolling zoo exhibit and the bear was the curious visitor.