polar bear plunge


Polar Bear Tatqiq Wears It Well

Tatqiq wears a collar

Tatqiq wears a collar for conservation science.

If you visit the San Diego Zoo’s Polar Bear Plunge these days, you might see something new: Tatqiq is wearing a white collar! While Tatqiq seems to be enjoying both wearing this new accessory and the training involved in putting it on and taking it off every day, our motives for having her wear it are focused on conservation science. Tatqiq will be contributing to research led by the U.S. Geological Survey focused on developing a better understanding of the behavior of wild polar bears in Alaska. These data will help us refine our understanding of how sea ice losses driven by climate change will impact polar bears.

The current configuration of the collar is simple: a thick and flexible plastic strap held together with a pair of zip ties, so Tatqiq can remove the collar easily if she wants to. If the collar is pulled, it will immediately loosen and fall off. However, this collar will soon be instrumented with a small accelerometer (the same technology that allows your smart phone to automatically adjust its screen orientation) that will provide scientists with information regarding the behavior of the bear wearing the collar. Because the polar bear’s Arctic sea ice has historically made it near impossible to make direct observations of polar bear behavior in the wild, the data we gain from the accelerometer will provide new insights into their daily behavior, movements, and energetic needs.

Held together with zip ties, the collar can easily come off if needed.

Held together with zip ties, the collar can easily be removed by Tatqiq if it bothers her.

“Radio-collars” have been used to track wildlife for decades and were initially developed to study the movements and infer the behavior of grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park. These early studies provided wildlife scientists with data that revolutionized our understanding of how individual bears moved about the landscape, and in so doing, helped us develop a much better understanding of what their habitat needs might be.

Since that time, the technology used to track wildlife has changed quite a bit, but the collar itself is still most commonly used to mount tracking devices and other instrumentation. With the advent of GPS collars (instead of VHF transmitters), the precision and quantity of the data we can collect on a wide array of animals has greatly expanded. The data collected by the instrumentation on these collars can also be downloaded remotely and frequently, allowing scientists and non-scientists alike the opportunity to track animals in the most remote corners of the Earth in real time and from the comfort of their own home or office.

While movement and location data are valuable, they only tell us part of the story. By studying behavior, we gain more insight into how animals interact with their environment and why different degrees of environmental change may differentially influence their chances of successful reproduction or survival. While baseline data can tell us about the range of behaviors an animal may engage in under a range of “normal conditions,” data collected under challenging environmental conditions can tell us much about the limits of a species’ ability to cope with their new environment and help us better predict what their limits might be. This work is part of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative.

We hope the collar...

We hope Tatqiq will help us test this new technology for studying wild polar bears.

The polar bear exemplifies the challenges associated with studying and protecting wildlife in our rapidly changing world. The Arctic sea ice, the habitat that the polar bear completely depends on for survival, is disappearing at an alarming rate. These habitat losses are driving population declines across the polar bear’s range, but some subpopulations are being hit harder than others. For example, recent results published from a long-term study of wild polar bears showed that the Alaskan population of bears from the Southern Beaufort Sea had declined by about 40 percent since the year 2000. Forty percent! That is a tremendous decrease and double the level of the most dire estimates that have come out of the last three decades of monitoring.

Tatqiq has always been a great conservation ambassador for polar bears everywhere. Visitors to the San Diego Zoo who have spent time watching Tatqiq (and Chinook and Kalluk) know that she is playful and engaged and demonstrates a range of behaviors that provide insights into the intelligence of these majestic bears. Now, Tatqiq will be helping us better understand how we can apply technology to better understand the behavior of wild bears. She wears it well!

Megan Owen is an associate director in the Applied Animal Ecology Division, San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Pandas Zhen Zhen and Yun Zi.


Polar Bear Night

Tatqiq loves that cold stuff!

Tatqiq loves that cold stuff!

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.


Polar Bears White and Brown


It has been a really busy beginning to 2011. Chinook let us know in December that cubs were not on the way (see post Polar Bears: What December Brings), and she was ready to join her buddies Kalluk and Tatqiq in life at Polar Bear Plunge. As keepers this is sometimes a worrisome time: not sure if the relationships from the past will still be there. Of course, after some initial greeting time, the famous three were up to their old antics. It is also the time of the year that the girls seem to be best friends, and Kalluk spends more time practicing his basketball skills!

Is that really you?

We used some of this time to do annual maintenance on the front pool: steam cleaning, replacement of lights, fresh mulch, etc. This meant that all three bears would be inside the bedrooms and yard—all together! With great affection, you must know that these three are beyond messy! Besides providing them with loads of boxes, burlap, and hay, they also felt it necessary to bring in fresh mulch from the yard into the bedrooms and the indoor pool—every day! Once back out to the main exhibit, Chinook definitely showed off that she truly is the queen of the mulch roll! Good thing Kalluk has a good sense of smell, as it appeared he was wondering where the brown bear came from!

Recently, Kalluk and Chinook have begun their great flirtation we see around breeding time. It seems a bit early this year, but they seem to be greatly enjoying each other’s company more than past years. Could this be a good sign? Tatqiq is now a bit of a loner and just stays away when the three are together. She has learned that this, too, will pass, and soon her silly, amorous buddies will be interested in playing again.

We are still collecting fecal samples from Chinook in hopes of being able to get a hormonal assay to determine pregnancy; we are now also collecting urine samples. Any information we can achieve will help us better understand polar bear reproduction.

We have also placed on the Wish List a request to give the polar bears snow. Take a look! If we reach our amount, we’ll be sure to give you notice to watch the fun on Polar Cam. Until then, keep doing your part to conserve and help the polar bears in the Arctic. Unfortunately, for all our cold weather down here it has been a very warm winter for our ice bears of the north!

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


Zoo Art for Pediatric Patients

An Arctic fox meets some special children.

The Kaiser Art Program is a collaboration between the San Diego Zoo’s Education Department, the San Diego Optimist Club, and Kaiser-Permanente’s hospital pediatric ward. Each month, outpatients, nurses, donors, and their families visit the Zoo to meet animals, go behind the scenes at the Zoo, and receive art lessons from Joe Nyiri, the Zoo’s longtime art instructor.

We had a great time this month with our Kaiser Art Program group.  January celebrated a winter wonderland theme with a visit to the Arctic animals at the Zoo’s Polar Bear Plunge.  I met our group at the front of the Zoo on a cold San Diego morning.  The clouds were gray and low, with no sun to be seen.  It wasn’t supposed to rain, but it sure felt like a dark winter day.  I saw my breath as I exhaled (yes—it was THAT cold!).  Despite the frosty morning, my friends from Kaiser met me with high spirits, excited for the day we had in store.

I was happy to see our guests decked out in hats and jackets. Today we’d be feeling the wind chill aboard our open-air, double-decked bus ride to Polar Bear Plunge. I greeted the familiar faces and received wishes of a Happy New Year. Cold or not, we were going to have a blast!

We popped into the Zoo and hopped aboard the bus. The kids, happily munching on granola bars and sipping juice boxes, bravely settled in on the top deck. I tried to stump the group with an Arctic quiz. This crowd, wide-eyed and ready to roll, knocked my socks off with their polar bear knowledge. How far can a polar bear smell a seal on the ice? What color is a polar bear’s fur? These kids knew it all! (Visit our Animal Bytes page for help with the answers.)

A potato?!

On our bus tour we explored the adaptations animals have in the wintertime before being dropped off at Polar Bear Plunge, where we spied on Isiq and Kaniq, the Arctic foxes.  Joe Nyiri, our art teacher extraordinaire, gave a lesson in drawing polar bears.  He said, “It’s like drawing a potato.” Indeed, the bears’ bodies are plump and round and fit for the Arctic wilderness.

After a peek at Boris the baby reindeer, we made our way to the Zoo’s Rondavel meeting room, where we mingled and snacked, drinking hot cocoa to warm up. Joe gave his instruction on taking the pencil drawings the kids sketched and adding pastel and watercolor to create multi-medium masterpieces. To top it all off, we had a visit from Dassie, a rock hyrax that shuffled about the room, curious and energetic.

What an awesome day!

Kimberly Carroll is an educator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Winter Camp 2010.

Watch the polar bears daily on Polar Cam.


Winter Camp 2010

Papagayo demonstrates her nut-cracking ability.

Despite the downpour of rain on San Diego this week, Winter Camp at the San Diego Zoo is off to a GREAT start! Campers can come to the Zoo for one day or more, and each day brings something exciting and new. Camp is open to kids in grades K–5. This year’s theme—The Winter Express—takes us to stops throughout the Zoo.

My name is Kim, and I am the teacher for the kindergarten class this year. We have had quite a good time so far. On Monday we learned all about how animals eat. We met a scarlet macaw named Papagayo that uses her strong beak to crack open nuts and rip apart fruits and played games with Roberta, a digital puppet that looks like a cartoon but can see you, talk to you, and answer your questions, too. We made a snowman snaft (snack-craft) using powdered donuts, a licorice scarf, and chocolate chip eyes before visiting the reindeer that live at Polar Bear Plunge. Keeper Tammy even coaxed Boris, the baby reindeer, out into the open for us to see.

On Tuesday, we boarded our own private bus to the Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey. On the way, campers spotted the locomotion of creatures all over the Zoo: we saw swinging, jumping, running, huddling, stretching, flying, catching, and snuggling. Our destination was the Elephant Care Center, where zookeeper Nora talked to us about Tembo, the African elephant. We got to see Tembo do a training session; boy, is she BIG! In the afternoon we met an armadillo named Cocoa, a snake, and a hedgehog named Thula. We also made a sock snake to take home using a sock, recycled paper, googly eyes, and a red paper tongue.

Wednesday was “Expert Eyes.” We took another bus (our taxi in the rain) to see Jama, the north Chinese leopard. Zookeeper Karen talked to us about his eyesight and all of his other amazing adaptations. We got to see him munch on his meat. We then met a screech owl named Ohos, saw a Dr. Zoolittle magic show, and took a stroll through Discovery Outpost. Our favorite sights were the otter cave and the naked mole-rat exhibit. Campers went home with a lot of goodies today: a reindeer game, 101 Things to Do at the San Diego Zoo booklet, and a homemade frame with a camp picture from our trip to the big cats.

Today’s theme is “Hanging Around.” We are heading to the koala exhibit to go behind the scenes. I bet we’ll meet a koala up close! I can’t wait.

Come join in on the fun! There are still spots available for next week’s Winter Camp.

Kimberly Carroll is an educator at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Behind the Scenes with Birds.


Polar Bears: A Quiet Fall?

Only Chinook knows for sure...

Changes have begun at the San Diego Zoo’s Polar Bear Plunge. You may have noticed that Chinook has spent the last few weeks with Kalluk and Tatqiq for less periods of time. We have been watching her behavior and started to decrease her time with them as she began to show no interest in interacting with them and even began to push them away.

Female polar bears require great quiet, security, and seclusion when they den. Interestingly, it was Kalluk whom Chinook first began to let know he was not welcome too close. For the next few weeks, Chinook will most likely be out in our large exhibit only in the mornings for a few hours, and then she will spend the rest of her day in the off-exhibit management yard we call Polar Bear Park and the adjoining bedrooms while Kalluk and Tatqiq take residence for the rest of the day in the exhibit.

Chinook’s change in behavior is normal for a female polar bear that is pregnant. Her den is installed, and the bedrooms that will act as outer chambers to her den are cozy and quiet. Yes, we have the cameras installed so when the time is right we will be able to share any greatly hoped-for additions to our polar bear family with anyone viewing Polar Cam. Is Chinook pregnant? When will she give birth? We don’t have the exact answers to these questions, but we sure are hoping for good news this fall!

Here’s what we do know: in March of this year, Kalluk and Chinook engaged in what appeared to be very successful breeding behavior. Polar bear gestation is 195 to 265 days. Counting it out, we would expect to see cubs born between October 9 and December 15. The majority of polar bears cubs in the U.S. have been born in late November, but the earliest was October 11. You can see Chinook’s timeline is well within normal timing!

We have also been participating in a fecal hormone study done by the Cincinnati Zoo’s CREW (Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife). The study is working to develop a test to be able to confirm pregnancy in polar bears and also be able to differentiate between actual pregnancy and false pregnancy. If the current numbers and protocols are correct, then Chinook’s hormones indicate that yes indeed she is pregnant! But at this point this is not a perfect measurement, so again we have a level of uncertainty that only seeing cubs will remove.

Luckily, Chinook is the only polar bear in the world currently that is trained for ultrasound procedures! We have regularly been doing these exams every week. We have yet to find anything but all the normal abdominal parts. It is very much like the first years with our giant pandas. . .so much to learn! How do you find a fetus the size of a peanut in a 200-plus-pound panda? Well, you can imagine the challenge when the bear is a 600-plus-pound polar bear! Suffice it to say that even if we don’t confirm pregnancy with ultrasound, it doesn’t mean Chinook is not pregnant. But how exciting it will be if we can confirm and have the first-ever images of a polar bear cub before birth!

Soon we expect Chinook will want only to be in the park and bedroom/den area. Kalluk and Tatqiq will spend their time in the exhibit keeping up their wonderful work as ambassadors. And I suspect we’ll all be crossing our fingers just a little bit harder! Patience . . . patience . . . patience. . .shhhhhh, it will be a quiet fall!

JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Polar Bears: Oh, Miss Chinook!

Note: JoAnne has provided some answers to questions posed in her previous post


Polar Bears: Oh, Miss Chinook!

ChinookThe summer is just flying by—it’s hard to believe we are already into August! As promised, with the beginning of August we are once again looking into ultrasound exams with Chinook. Can it already be nine months since our last ultrasound? Last Friday we had an appointment with our veterinary staff to begin getting our beautiful bear back into the swing of things and, to be honest, get all of Chinook’s caretakers back into the routine as well.

The process of performing an ultrasound with a polar bear is not quite as straight forward as you would think. No wonder Chinook is the only polar bear in the universe that does ultrasound without anesthesia. First, we gather the supplies: Where did the ultrasound probe protection sleeve go? Ah yes, it was borrowed for a camel ultrasound a few months back. The ultrasound machine (a high-tech, portable Aloka) fit perfectly, protected under the counter in the polar bear kitchen for the last few months. And, of course, the all-important gel! Plus squirt bottles to mix the gel with water to help view through Chinook’s lush belly fur. Lastly, the most important item—creamy peanut butter! This is the favored treat made into liquid that our Chinook loves to slurp while her belly is rubbed during ultrasounds.

Friday afternoon arrived and all was ready, with Chinook sitting regally in her training crate watching all the set up. She had freedom to move anywhere else but seemed content to watch. All was finally in place for the first session in nine months. We were prepared that perhaps it might take a bit to refresh Chinook’s memory and regain a bit of her enthusiasm for the behavior. Boy, were we WRONG! At our first ask of her to turn around and lean into a roll-over, she gave a look that said “What took so long?” and immediately rolled over perfectly. Not even a second glance as the watery gel was applied and then followed by the ultrasound probe. Chinook simply rested, enjoying her grapes, fish, and the all-important creamy-peanut-butter “soup.” Oh, Miss Chinook, you are truly an incredible bear! What an ambassador for your wild counterparts, and what a thrill it is to work with you.

So what did we see with the ultrasound exam? As our veterinarian said, “All the right abdominal stuff.” We absolutely don’t expect to see anything this early. The ability to ultrasound Chinook for possible pregnancy is a path to get many polar bear reproduction questions answered. We know so little about the implantation process and fetal growth. This information will add to what we need to know to protect critical denning habitat for polar bears in the wild. We will be able to better know the critical times to keep these areas safe.

The news coming from the Arctic is not great these days. In June, we saw the fastest loss of ice ever measured. July brought the second-lowest ice extent and the beginning of the old ice melt. It is the old, multi-year ice that is so important to keeping the Arctic cold and our entire planet cool. Today, San Diego announced what an impact our community has had on improving our air quality. What a great testimony to what we can all do to help our environment! We must all continue to keep working as individuals, groups, communities, nations, and the world to keep our planet safe.

JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Polar Bears: “Who’s Who”.


Polar Bears: Who is Who?


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.


Polar Bears: A New Look

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.


Polar Bear Plunge: Re-Opened!

A young guest pops his head out of a seal breathing hole, one of seven new elements at Polar Bear Plunge.

Thanks to the generous support of Conrad Prebys, our new $1 million renovation of Polar Bear Plunge is fun, interactive, educational, and OPEN!

This past Friday, we kicked off opening day with media covering the fun and exciting VIP party. With about 200 special guests in attendance, I was asked to give a walking tour from the new storybook area all the way through the enhanced guest area to the awe-inspiring Experience Wall. It was no surprise that adults and kids alike were thrilled with the new additions to Polar Bear Plunge.

Guests watch one of our polar bears at the new Experience Wall.

At noon, the official ribbon cutting (actually an ice ribbon) was “cut” by Dr. Frederick A. Fry, San Diego Zoo board president, and celebrity guest Tori Spelling, who was there with her husband and two kids for the big day. Hundreds of guests were on hand and made their way in to see all of the changes and updates that were done.

Keep in mind, Polar Bear Plunge was originally built in 1996 with the goal to be one of the best zoo polar bear habitats, and, of course, that goal was met. To this day it remains one of the best opportunities for people to see how bears live in the summer tundra of the North. One thing that was not a concern when it was built in 1996 was discussing the habitat loss that polar bears experience, because there wasn’t really anything significant back in 1996.

However, since that time there have been many changes to the polar bear’s habitat in the wild. Our researchers and conservation partners who study these wonderful animals have been recording dramatic changes over the years. As a conservation organization we believe it is our responsibility to educate our guests and connect them to wildlife and conservation. Today, Polar Bear Plunge is now one of the best polar bear experiences for our animals and guests alike!

As you can see from our new Polar Bear Plunge Web site, there are now many new elements to explore and enjoy. From here you can make a pledge to help the polar bears and post that pledge on your Facebook page, learn “heaps of cool stuff,” and play some interactive games to keep you inspired to follow through with your pledge. Keep in mind that while you’re on the Polar Bear Plunge Web site you can visit the popular Polar Bear Cam that many people enjoy around the world.

Rick Schwartz is the San Diego Zoo’s ambassador. Read his previous post, Touring Fun in Phoenix.

Here’s video of the grand re-opening!