Polar Bears: Oh So Busy!


It’s hard to believe how fast time is flying. It seems just last week we were still wondering if we’d be hearing the pitter patter of cub paws (see post Polar Bears: Waiting May Be Over). Now the air is filled with roaring earth movers, jack hammers, and concrete mixers as the work is progressing for the new educational experience at the San Diego Zoo’s Conrad Prebys Polar Bear Plunge.

Our cool trio is having a great time watching all the commotion. We think Kalluk wants to know why he can’t have a hard hat to wear, and Tatqiq would like them to all stop working and play with her at the glass. Chinook poses by the rock playing hard to get when she lures the contractors over for a peek.

The rest of us are busy spreading the word about all the great new changes we’ll be unveiling on March 26. I’ve been in New York travelling with Rick Schwartz, the Zoo’s ambassador, and Megan Owen, a conservation researcher for the Zoo, teaming up to speak with journalists and reporters from all kinds of media. (see Rick’s post Meeting with Media in Manhattan). My special assignments included speaking at the New York Public library to an after-school program for kids and speaking to master’s students from Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

The program for kids showed how our polar bears are ambassadors for wild polar bears and can connect everyone to care enough to help polar bears in the Arctic. The younger kids “oohed” and “ahhed” as I introduced them first to our trio of bears (using photos, of course!). And everyone giggled appropriately as I explained why we feed them carrots and how each of our bears demonstrates their individual traits by how they like to eat their carrots. Did you know Chinook likes to have her carrots handed to her pointed end first, Tatqiq likes it just the opposite, and Kalluk likes to have at least three at once! Aside from the laughs, these kids are very serious in wanting to help out, and all promised to police energy usage at home by reading more and playing fewer video games!

I will forever remember the students I spoke with at Columbia University. No surprise: they are incredibly bright and also inspirational. We spoke of the research projects we are pursuing at the San Diego Zoo that give us information to help protect wild polar bear habitat. I told them of the changes I have seen in the past years I‘ve spent watching polar bears in the Arctic and shared video and photos along with graphs from other colleagues and climate organizations that give the overwhelming evidence of the effect we have on the changing climate. These students are mixing an education in conservation, science, business, and policy making. Their questions and observations were filled with passion, deep thought, and, most of all, confident optimism that the answers are there for so many of the questions we have about the future of the Arctic and all Earth-balance issues. These young men and women will be the ones that do save our planet by finding intelligent, creative answers as to how we can continue to progress in our ways of life that no longer take too many resources and keep the natural balance of our planet.

JoAnne Simerson is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read about her trip to wild polar bear habitat in her post Polar Bears: Nine Years of Change.

0 Responses to Polar Bears: Oh So Busy!

  1. Thanks for the new post JoAnne. It’s absolutely fantastic that you go out and speak to the youngsters about polar bears. Trust Kalluk to want three carrots at once! Now I know why the pool has been so busy lately; the bears are showing off to the workers!

  2. Thanks for another update, JoAnne. I can’t help but chuckle when I read Kalluk likes to have at least three sticks of carrots handed to him. No wonder he is the biggest of all, and the only boy in the trio.

    I can’t wait until March 26 to more photos online!

  3. Congratulations on spreading the word. I just had a very successful program last night at a local branch library, nothing so esteemed as Columbia University, but rewarding nevertheless. I’m just noticing Chinook out there rolling around in front of Kalluk, which I believe is flirting behavior. He’s occasionally paying attention but also walking back and forth … distressing noise in the background?

    JoAnne responds: Yes, Chinook’s beginning to flirt, and the rolling around is a bit of an “advertisement,” but she’s not receptive yet, so the walking you see is a bit of impatience by our boy. FYI: he’s not yet ready either, and we often see a bit of wandering behavior from both as we approach breeding time. Just another indicator of hormones shifting!

  4. JoAnne, I can’t think of a better person to go out and represent the polar bears than you! You express so much compassion for the bears–I’m sure they are most grateful and kiss you daily when they can. Keep up the good work on their behalf. Thanks for all you’ve taught us.

  5. Thank you for the great post, JoAnne, and all you do for your bears. I loved reading about how they like their carrots and Chinook’s and Kalluk’s behaviors!

  6. that would be so cool to have a polar bear cub to watch.

  7. When will the cub dance begin again and the season to be jolly for Chinook and Kalluk? Will the new construction interrupt the baby dance?

  8. Oh my what a handsome boy we have here! Occasionally I will see a polar bear swim up to the land and then “push off” backward back into the water and then swim underwater back to the land again and repeat the process over and over. Is this one particular bear or do they all do it? It’s very entertaining to watch!

  9. 2:18 PM PST: Just saw a bear (Tatqiq?) swimming next to the viewing glass, holding up a stick of carrots with both front paws, and pausing for a few moments before consuming the carrot. It was all done as for show. I have never observed such behavior before, but it was very interesting and intriguing.

  10. Wow, the polar bear plunge is going to be awesome! I just wish I wasn’t half way across the US and had a chance to check it out when it opens. Best to all of you for geting this great site so “user friendly” for all the zoo quests.

  11. Michelle #8, that’s Chinook you see, swimming her laps. She’s practising for the next Olympics!!

  12. Just took a second look at Kalluk’s beautiful photo. I think I have a crush …

  13. one bear is out on a rock right now laying on looks like palm fronds and they are throwing their head all around and raising their heads as if to be howling. Do polie’s howl and if not, what could they be doing? :)

    Moderator’s note: Sniffing the air!

  14. Beautiful bears!

  15. Hi Cindy. Here’s a possible explanation: Bears also have a sort of sixth sense, from the ‘vomeronasal organ’. This was explained to me recently, and I couldn’t say I have much understanding of the impact of that in their behavior … or in my own. Evidently, however, they rely on this information a lot more than we do. I was told that bears access the sensory input by making a sort of huffing action. I’ve seen bears doing this, but I don’t understand when or where they do it, or what they’re getting out of it. If you google the above term, you can get a lot of information, but I find that more confusing than helpful. Perhaps you can get our friend Joanne to offer more explanations.

  16. Thanks JoAnne. You have personally been one very busy lady between traveling to Manitoba, NYC, and working with the animals during the construction. It seems like you just started thinning Chinook down from her pseudo pregnancy, and soon breeding season will be upon you and hopefully you will need to start building her up again for another possible pregnancy. Nothing stays the same except constant change. Best wishes for the successful opening of the new educational features of Polar Plunge and for a successful mating between Chinook and Kalluk. Will you use the new area to allow Tatqiq to have her own special place while she is not as welcome around the busy couple? I remember you staying how much she enjoyed exploring every inch of the new area, so I would guess that she might prefer that to having to stay off by herself in a corner of the exhibit like she did last year.

  17. Great piece about the Polar Bears in Churchill Manitoba on the Olympics coverage last night. Great shots of the Tundra Buggies and explanation about the remote educational programs with various ages of kids across Canada. Hope they recorded it and have it available on their website.