Polar Bears: The Latest

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Kalluk grabs a carrot snack.

It’s hard to believe summer is a distant memory, and fall is quickly passing. Can we already be into the middle of November? Six months ago we were all so sure our Chinook would be caring for cubs. We’ve not yet given up, but the wait and uncertainty is almost un”bear”able. We will just have to wait a bit longer to know if we will be welcoming any cubs to our family.

Here is what we do know: as of the last analysis of hormones, October 12, Chinook had not yet had any embryos implant, but her levels were still close to what we would expect of a potentially pregnant polar bear. So if she is pregnant, we would now not expect to see any cubs until late November or early December. We must still keep in mind that these tests are not a perfected science, and we still have many things to learn.

Chinook’s weight has now stabilized, and she is no longer gaining weight; still, she is very picky about what she will and won’t eat. Again, something seen in polar bears that have given birth. Chinook’s behavior seems to be moving away from what we would expect; instead of slowing down, she is becoming more active. This is not entirely a sign of no pregnancy; some females show heightened activity just before they den up. These are typically females that give birth shortly after denning.

Do we dare hope that this is Chinook’s plan? As it has always been here at the San Diego Zoo, Chinook’s needs will dictate everything we do for her. Is she just learning that every fall, if she slows a bit, we begin catering to her every need and give her more  “me” time and spa days? And of course she gets those special days of peanut butter soup and belly rubs for ultrasound procedures. She is a very smart girl! Unfortunately, we have yet to see any cubs with the ultrasound. Not to be discouraged: our veterinarians remind us they did ultrasound for three years before they saw a cub with our giant pandas!

Kalluk and Tatqiq are having a great time together. They certainly are enjoying rambunctious water play and daily dirt pile rolls! It would appear Chinook is now not the only dirt bear expert. In the event Chinook does not den up, we would look to putting our threesome together as soon as possible. I shudder to think what the pool will look like with three huge dirt balls jumping off the point!

Fall is also the time when Chinook’s cousins in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, begin to gather at the shore and wait for the ice to form. I am on my way north for my 10th year in this one-of-a-kind polar bear world. Selfishly, I’m hoping that if Chinook is to give birth, she will wait for me to come home in December. I am also concerned with what I might see with the wild polar bears. This past year saw the shortest recorded ice formation for the Hudson Bay population of polar bears. Not only did it freeze up four weeks late, it also melted five weeks early. The bears had barely six months to hunt. The forecast is not looking any better, and warmer-than-normal temperatures are expected throughout Canada’s Hudson Bay. Although a few degrees may not seem like much, the difference between water and ice is the difference between 33 and 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 and -0.5 degrees Celsius). A small amount can, in the end, make a huge difference.

What other small thing can you do to reduce your carbon footprint and encourage others to do the same? In the end, it could make a huge difference.

JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Polar Bear Hopes.

Watch the Zoo’s polar bears daily on Polar Cam.