Polar bears have very good eyesight both in light and dark. They spend half of the year in one or the other in the dramatic days of winter and summer in the Arctic. To survive, a polar bear must eat a seal at least every three to four days. When not hunting, polar bears are resting, perhaps as much as 20 hours a day. Polar bears are great bed makers, building nest-like beds in seaweed piled up on the coast, digging deep caves of snow into the bluffs, or resting in a shallow snow bed and letting the blowing snow cover them, making for a snug day den.
Chinook, Kalluk, and Tatqiq are no different from their wild cousins when it comes to bed making—they just have different materials. They love digging into the mulch or sand, Kalluk, especially, likes to sleep in his plastic kiddie pools. It is so fun to watch him organizing the pools so he can fit his entire 1,200 pounds (544 kilograms) into them! Tatqiq really likes the palm fronds and arranges them so they cradle her or she can hug them between her paws. Chinook’s favorite bedding is pine needles keepers rake up from the pines around Polar Bear Plunge. If pine needles aren’t available, she is a master with combining Bermuda hay and burlap bags for the most comfortable, cozy bed! One bed trait all three bears share is making a pillow. The pillow may be a log, a raised area of the exhibit, a cardboard box, or a shmooshed carrot bucket. You may see this on Polar Cam.
Do our polar bears sleep all night? Keepers suspect they do for the most part, although there is often evidence of carrot munching, playing, and exploring. Sometimes it is obvious there was activity overnight. Recently, new sod was put into the polar bear yard, and for two nights it was given the chance to take hold, with either Chinook or Tatqiq having access to the yard. On the third night, Kalluk shared it with Chinook. Keepers came in the next morning to find most of the sod in the yard had been tossed into the pool and torn into small pieces. Chinook was brilliantly clean, while a certain handsome boy, famous for his love of head wear, had mud and grass smears all over his head. Hmmmm, who played with the sod?
Do polar bears dream? Keepers get the awesome chance to be close to sleeping polar bears. Sometimes the bears’ lips or paws move, so it seems possible they are dreaming. They are certainly intelligent beings who show they are also creative in their play and approach to problem solving, so why not dream? We may never really know. There is so much still to learn about polar bears, and we continue to learn more each day with our fabulous trio.
We protect what we know and love. Chinook, Kalluk, and Tatqiq are very good at inspiring all of us to know and love polar bears. We all must find ways to protect the fragile habitat of the planet we all share. After all, could you even dream of a world without polar bears?
JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Polar Bear Mid-Day.