Polar Bears: Who is Who?

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Having a tough time telling “who’s who” on the camera? Here are a few helpful identifiers:

First, now that breeding season is over, if you see two bears together most likely it is our siblings Kalluk and Tatqiq. They truly enjoy each other for playing and often times sleep in close proximity, especially on our beach! Chinook, it seems, is not joining the two this year for the summer frolic season. Instead, she is content with watching them and resting by a favorite pile of carrots. She also loves to sleep to the right side of the waterfall or out on the point.

We maintain a variable schedule of which bear is on exhibit when, but for the most part, Kalluk and Tatqiq are on exhibit more often in the evenings, and Chinook is in the bedrooms and polar bear park. This is intentional because she does seem to enjoy this area, and if she is pregnant, this will be where she will live for up to six months and introduce her cubs to the great world of grass, dirt, and swimming!

Individually, Chinook is the most round of our three. Her arms look very solid, as does every part of her. When polar bears put on weight, it first goes on their belly, then their bum, then distributes over the rest of their body. The bear you see with thick arms, neck and legs, rounder profile, and in the close-up has a beauty mark under her left eye, is Chinook! Again, her weight gain is intentional in preparation that she will be denning up this fall. We want to be sure she has plenty of energy to support any time she might spend fasting during the denning period. Female polar bears in the Arctic regularly go without food for four months while in their dens; due to the loss of sea ice, this time in now increasing to as much as nine months. This is why we are seeing smaller litters and an increase in the mortality of cubs in the wild.

Kalluk and Tatqiq are almost mirror images of each other except, of course, that Kalluk is twice the size of Tatqiq! They both have more slender appearances and are very tall looking. Actually, we suspect Kalluk may well be the tallest male polar bear in any zoo. We measured him standing up, and he is over 10 feet (3 meters) tall! Kalluk is the “basketball player”; he throws everything and has definitely learned where he can throw toys and have them come back to him. Tatqiq tends to wrestle with toys. When you see two bears wrestling, Tatqiq stands fully up but Kalluk only half way; this is so he and Tatqiq are the same height. Also, don’t worry if you see them dragging each other around by their head or ears; they’ve done this game since they were six-month-old cubs!

As we all enjoy our summer weather, I hope we are all still thinking about conserving energy. Have you raised the temperature on your thermostat for less air conditioner use? Evening walks are a great, cool time to get to know your neighborhood and turn off the computer and TV! We are now seeing the lowest recorded ice amount in the Arctic for the month of June. The rate of melting sea ice is at a historic record. Let’s do a bit more to slow this rate of warming. Check out our Polar Bear Plunge Web site for more ideas!

JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Polar Bears: A New Look.