Polar Bears: A New Look

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Kalluk shakes off.

Why no Polar Cam? Have you looked recently? The Polar Cam has been replaced by a new HD camera system, and it looks so much better! And in keeping with our message of reducing our waste, the old camera will be reused in our Polar Bear Park (the new management yard behind the main polar bear exhibit)! We have been able to raise enough funds to add some cameras and the ability to pan-tilt-zoom! This will help us see where our bears are from inside the polar bear building and what antics our trio is up to. In addition—YES!—we will be installing an Internet hookup so that in the event Chinook has cubs, we will be able to show her den live on our Web site! With the installation of the cameras in the park, we will also be able to watch the bears in the pool. We are hoping to have all the work done by the beginning of July. We want to have lots of practice with it by the fall!

And for those of you wondering about weather conditions in San Diego, it would appear we are in for a “snow storm” on Saturday, June 5, in celebration of World Oceans Day! Luckily for beach goers, it will be an isolated storm directly in the Conrad Prebys Polar Bear Plunge. We are expecting the largest snowfall ever, and a few creative individuals will be building ice people; the bears will then get the choice of which is the best. So watch to see which one they knock over first! Note: Video of this fun activity is now posted!

Our arctic foxes Kaniq and Isiq have made themselves quite comfortable in their new digs (see New Neighbors for Polar Bears): every day we find a brand-new hole! It is so much fun to see them digging and rolling in the soil. They don’t seem to have much appreciation for landscape and have greatly enjoyed playing tug-of-war with the long grass and flowering plants in their area. Isiq also loves to race around with pieces of sod, tossing and jumping as though she is making a great lemming kill. When you visit, please take some time with these two. Morning is usually the best time.

The reindeer herd is now officially grown. Three yearling females have joined our other lady. Polar bear Kalluk is absolutely entranced by them. I’m not sure what he was trying to communicate when he brought his large beef femur bone over to show the reindeer at the fence line!

For those of you trying to tell the difference between Tatqiq and Chinook, it is quite easy these days: Chinook is oh so very pudgy! This is usually a time when she would be losing weight, and she is not. Not sure what this means, but she has not become her usual playful self after breeding season and instead seems to be a bit drifty and very mellow.

But if action is what you’re looking for, check out our brother-sister team! Kalluk and Tatqiq have rejoined to become quite the pair. As we get closer to summer, they are definitely swimming and playing together more, and Kalluk is back to his water-ball-dribbling and basketball-like antics!

With the fun days we have ahead, it’s difficult to hear of the latest report coming from the biologists in the Arctic. The ice has not been very good this year. The Western Hudson Bay area where I spend every fall reports the hardest news of all: it would appear that their population of polar bears is very close to the “tipping point.” This is a term used to define when a population decreases so greatly it has little chance of returning. It is estimated that a third of the Western Hudson population could be lost within a year’s time. The decline will be gradual until the threshold is passed, and then it will decline dramatically and very fast. In the 1980s, there were approximately 120 days during which the bears had a summer fast due to ice melt; this time it is increasing and it is estimated that when it reaches 180 days, 28 to 48 percent of the population will starve. This is very difficult to think about.

The disaster we watch every day in the Gulf is a good reminder that it is about our entire planet and how we use its resources. It is time to really act on common sense and what is good for our home by reducing our consumption and our waste. In the end, we are all impacted by it, whether it is happening off our coast, the equator, or at either pole.

JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.