Polar Bears: The Latest

Posted at 9:12 am November 16, 2010 by JoAnne Simerson

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.

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63 Responses to “Polar Bears: The Latest”

  1. Debi says:

    Thank you for the update! I am not giving up hope yet, for Chinook. She seems like a wintry bear and I would not be surprised if she ever gives birth it won’t be until the days are at their shortest so I am hoping for a possible birthday present from her (Nov. 27th) for den up and an early December cub or two, if not this year, perhaps next! How old is Chinook now and at what age do female polar bears usually stop having cubs? I am sure Chinook is loving being spoiled!

    Moderator’s note: Chinook was born February 1995.

  2. cindy in KC says:

    How many pounds a day of carrots does that boy eat??

  3. Vonna - North Carolina says:

    Thank You, Joanne. Guess we can’t give up hope until ya’ll do. I find it amusing, but not surprising, that Chinook may have figured out ‘her special time of the year’ and learned to take full advantage of it, but we can still hope this time it will be for real.

    I’d like to add how impressed I have been by the journalistic skills of those of you who post to the blogs!

    I hope your trip north will have a few pleasant surprises in store for you and that you have a safe and great trip.

  4. Sue Martz says:

    Thanks for the latest update on our Chinook and the bears. I’m looking forward to the trip of a lifetime next year in Hudson Bay. Just got the itinerary from the SDZ for the trip up north. Can’t wait!

    Moderator’s note: What a great time you’ll have, especially with JoAnne as one of the Zoo’s tour escorts! For others interested, here’s more info on the San Diego Zoo’s WorldWild Tours trip to Churchill to see wild polar bears.

  5. Sue Martz says:

    any more pictures or video of baby Boris? He is so cute with those little antlers starting to bud.

    Moderator’s note: Yes! Stay tuned for Kim’s next blog post.

  6. Cheryl says:

    Gosh — I would have bet money we would be seeing cubs by now. Maybe Chinook has some surprises for us at Thanksgiving. Well, if not — it was fun thinking about it. Thanks for the update — I’m still keeping some fingers crossed!

  7. JoGGer says:

    Im still wondering if Antarctica could provide a potential new area for Polar bears to expand in if they were ‘exported’ there ?

  8. lu says:

    Maybe she is playing possum, likes all that attention. I sure hope she is with cubs, I would love to come

    and see the new little ones. Little polar bear must be adorable.


  9. barbara says:

    Ive not given up hope like everyone else Im wondering if polar bears in captivity act different then the bears in the wild after all they have no fear no other big scary bears! Just maybe our mrs. Chinook is doing things her way after all remember shes the only bear to do a ultra sound without sleeping Keep up the good work ! Barbara


  10. Karen in Edmonton AB Canada says:

    I am keeping my fingers crossed for a new baby soon or should I say in December. I pray that the Bay gets -40 F for the next 5 months so the bears have lots of ice to hunt on. I look forward to reading about your trip.

    Thank you for the info.

  11. Lainie says:

    Thank you Joanne for more of the latest and greatest with our favorite threesome ! In reading info the other day on the internet, I discovered, that some polar bears do in fact give birth in December and some even in January. So I am not giving up hope that she may be with cub(s). But of course given her personality, I also wouldnt put it past her to to just take in all the attention, and enjoy it to the fullest extent ! =)

  12. Grace says:

    Some bear is enjoying a block of ice as a treat. I wonder if there is any hidden treasures “buried” in that block. =) She/he is so focused on it that there seems to be no break for anything!

  13. Nan says:

    #7JoGGer: Relocating polar bears to Antarctica isn’t a good option for a number of reasons including the fact that I would hope we humans have learned our lesson about introducing nonnative species to a habitat! Think of the poor penguins! 🙂

    The Antarctic is a very different habitat than the Arctic–even though they both have ice! The Arctic sea ice that polar bears rely on for hunting get them access to the fat-rich seals they need to survive. The Antarctic is a landmass covered with ice, so the bears would have to adapt to hunting around the edges which would likely require a different technique.

    And it would be very expensive, not to mention a logistical nightmare to collect and transport them! These are just a couple of examples, but there are many, many more reasons.

  14. nancy from michigan says:

    it’s hard enough to wait when you know an animal is pregnant; but, not knowing for sure if the animal is pregnant or when and if it gives birth is mind boggling and hard to wait, wait, wait!!!!! lol…………………….

    we are an impatient bunch aren’t we? but, we do not have a choice in the matter. we may just have to dream of fluffy little baby polar bears for who knows how long?

  15. Karen says:

    Thank you for the update on Chinook. I do hope she is pregnant and will have a cub or two. Could Chinook be so smart as you said that she goes into pregnancy mode just to get treats and spa days in the fall and winter months. Chinook is one smart polar bear. But I am still hoping she is pregnant with cub or cubs.

  16. Mary Anne in NY says:

    I Just heard Boris the little reindeer call his keepers any chance of us hearing Kullak or Tatqiq?

    Thank you for all you do .. some days…. at work instead of screaming for the culligan man when I am having a bad day .. I just turn the bears on and feel the stress go away!

  17. Grace says:

    I cannot believe my eyes! One bear is nibbling on grass!!! Does this happen often? Is this normal behavior? I thought polar bears are carnivorous!!!

    Moderator’s note: They enjoy a variety of food items: note Kalluk and his carrots 😉

  18. Bonnie says:

    Hi there! Love my bears! Thx for all to wondcerful work you do! : ) I was just on cam watch and saw that Kalluk (i believe) seemed very upset and was running back and forth to the door…why does he appear to be so very ancy??? Are they ok???

    Moderator’s note: I’m sure he’s fine. Perhaps he heard a keeper working behind the door.

  19. Grace says:

    #17 @ Moderator’s note: Thanks for your reply. Yes, I am aware that the bears eat their carrot snacks. But grass??!! I still find it incredible! (Just me voicing my disbelief, I suppose…)

  20. Susan(UK) says:

    I am still hopeful that Chinook will have at least one cub.

    But I’m also looking forward to the day when we see a triple polar mud bath!

  21. JoGGer says:

    Everyone knows when it comes to penguins polar bears cant eat ’em ‘cos they can’t get the wrappers off…( thats an english joke you americans will have to google penguins) 😉

  22. JoGGer says:

    Both of my dogs (ostensibly carnivores) ate grass every so often…they were usually sick afterwards I always assumed it was some sort of medicinal thing…

  23. Mary Anne in NY says:

    normally dogs do eat grass to make themselves sick..when they have an upset stomach.

  24. Chari Mercier says:

    I have seen Kalluk and Tatqiq in that dirt pile looking like brown bears instead of polar bears on the polar bear cam! That was fun to see them look like that! When they do dive into that pool, I bet that pool gets very dirty when the bears swim all of that dirt off of them! Love that pic of Kalluk eating carrots! These bears just love their carrots! I am also hoping that Chinook will surprise us with a cub or two before December or January. I will still be bummed if she doesn’t have cubs this year!
    From what I understand about all species of bears, almost all of them will eat grass during the summer. It’s a source of fiber and nutrition that they need to have to help with their digestive system and bowel movements. It’s another source of food for them other than animal meat and berries. Brown bears and grizzlies will also climb up the Rockies where the rocks are to find another source of food that I think has some salt in it under those rocks, and it’s moss that grows under those rocks (I think I’m right about this; correct me if I’m off the mark, ok?). I’m not too surprised that polar bears will do the same thing on eating grass since it is a good fiber food for them, especially in the summer when their seal food can’t be reached due to the severe lack of ice. JoAnne, I am looking forward to your next article about your trip to Northern Manitoba, Canada and about the wild polar bears there. I am also concerned about the lack of ice during the spring, summer, and early fall. I sure do hope that the ice will start to form right now to give these bears a good start on their seal hunts. That will be awesome if and when that happens!
    As far as reducing our carbon footprint, got some recycle news for you! Our apartment complex in Pinellas County, FL has finally got some recycle bins on our grounds for everyone to put recycle items in them! We’ve had them about 2 weeks now, and so far, the bins have been pretty full when the recycle truck comes to pick up the items once a week. I pushed for this hard because there are some people that want to recycle but can’t get those items to some of the recycle areas in our county because they have no cars to drive. So, this is a real plus for us, and a real plus for polar bears, pandas, and other endangered animals in this world! YEA!!!
    Gonna go for now! Later!!
    Chari Mercier 🙂
    St. Pete, FL

    Moderator’s note: Good job pushing for those recycling bins, Chari!

  25. JoGGer says:

    My main reason to coming to the site is of course to watch Kalluk and the girls…polar bears are my favourite animal.

    However I would love to find out about the crocodilian species held at san diego and there’s virtually nothing at all on the site !!

    How come ?? We’re talking about the nearest things we’ve got to DINOSAURS !! I know theres a lot to be said for ‘cute’ and ‘cuddly’ but being able to see crocodiles and alligators on cam would be the nearest thing to being able to travel back to the Mesozoic era.

    Moderator’s note: We have some gharial exhibit info here…

  26. JoGGer says:

    Great link mod thanks. Hope to see more of our modern day dinosaurs on the site !! Not all animals can be cute like Boris or our favourite bears.

    Meanwhile I tuned in and I think Kalluk and Tatqiq want to be crocodiles, they’re certainly basking enough these days 😀

  27. JoGGer says:

    Quite an amusing sight today don’t know if anyone else saw it but Kalluk and Tatqiq were dozing and a visitor was taking photos… a little bird absolutely dwarfed by kalluk was sitting on a log in front of the glass distinctly bobby and wagging his tail. Im sure he was posing and that he thought HIS pic was being taken as if he was the star of the show rather than the two huge bears dozing a few feet away… That birdie is today’s unnamed star of the cam 😀

  28. JoGGer says:

    Its just occurred to me that all the talk is about Chinook getting pregnant…aren’t there any plans to arrange a romantic liaison for Tatqiq with a view to introducing her to the art of beary motherhood ??

    Moderator’s note: We’d have to bring in another male bear, or send Tatqiq to another facility, as she and Kalluk are littermates.

  29. PattiS says:

    Why does the one bear like to lay on old Palm Fronds? Are they warm or just comfortable? Thanks for all your information.

    Moderator’s note: Perhaps they have a nice smell?

  30. rudi besby says:

    Faboluos ; Hello from Copenhagen Denmark EU . Sorry my english!!! That we can see your IceBear, fantastic if there are Cubs to december– and we can follow all this trough the Pond, do understand much of your lanquage. Thanks a lot <3<3

    Moderator’s note: Welcome, Rudi! Enjoy watching our polar bears.

  31. Jodie says:

    Just a thought. Chinook is separated from the other bears after she might have conceived. Is it possible that the change in routine might have kept her from allowing a pregnancy to proceed since she decides whether to remain pregnant?

  32. Debi says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to our Polar Bears!!! Will they be receiving any special treats on this special holiday?

    Moderator’s note: Every day’s a special day for our bears!

  33. JoGGer says:

    Are polar bears double jointed ? Their limbs seem to bend to some really odd angles Ive never seen other mammals achieve the ‘wrist’ seems particularly flexible ?

    I’m also wondering if the claws are retractable they seem to be – if so isn’t that unusual for a non- feline animal ?

  34. Diane in Victoria says:

    I’ve wondered too if someone Chinook or her body is forming internal messages that there’s some reason not to proceed with the cubs. Perhaps proximity to Kalluk … ?

    Hi JoGGer: Claws aren’t retractable. They’re placed on the toes as our fingernails are.

  35. rudi besby says:

    Hello from Denmark. We are so lucky- in AAlborg Zoo ( Jylland) we got a new little IceBeer Cub, for 5 days ago. Mom got 3 cubs, but only one of them has survived, a little fieghter. You can see it on webcam, living, with sound. so little and sweet.

  36. Nevada says:

    Where can I get technical help for the HD polar webcam? It hasn’t been working on my system ever since I updated my computer software to Mac OS 10.6.5. The non-HD zoo cams are still working for me just fine. The problem is that the polar cam & elephant cams will load (showing me a brief glimpse for a second or so) and then immediately fade to black. I even downloaded another browser to see if that would make the difference, but no… 🙁

    I’m a huge Kalluk, Chinook & Tatqiq fan & I miss watching them very much.

    Moderator’s note: Your request for help has been forwarded to our Polar Cam provider.

  37. Diane in Victoria says:

    Sorry. I meant to say: I’ve always wondered too if SOMEHOW Chinook or her body …

  38. Web Team says:

    #36 Nevada

    Polar Cam should work fine on Mac. We develop the system on Mac. Here are some suggestions:

    1) Empty cache in Safari browser, close browser completely, and then re-launch browser.

    2) Is your Adobe Flash Player up to date? (http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/otherversions)

  39. Dianna from Ohio says:

    #35 Rudi Besby: I saw the little one!! I went out to your zoo’s website and at first I was very discouraged because the only thing I could make out was a big paw… then that big paw moved backwards and there he/she was!!! Just squirming around on Mom’s chest… then Mom moved her paw back over the little one again… Will you have a contest to name the baby? What is the Mom’s name? How exciting for your zoo to have a Ice Bear baby!! Is it her first cubbie?

  40. Nevada says:

    Thank you for your response & suggestions, Web Team. I have downloaded Adobe Flash and emptied out my cache history, closed Safari version 5.0.3 & reopened and even restarted the computer to no avail. I also tried downloading & using the latest version of Firefox and am experiencing the same problem with that browser.

    It appears to be an issue with Mac OS X 10.6.5. I had no problems at all prior to downloading that latest OS update. As I said, I still have no problems viewing the other non-HD zoo cams (such as the ape cam, panda cam, etc.). Any other suggestions you might have would be appreciated.

    Moderator’s note: We’ll have someone contact you directly to try to help.

  41. Richard says:

    Does anyone know when the are bringing snow to the exhibit this year? I would love to take my son to see this.

    Moderator’s note: Right now we are trying to raise money to bring snow in for our three brown bears.

  42. Mary Anne in NY says:

    is there a place were we can send donations for the ice?

  43. Mary Anne in NY says:

    sorry meant snow!

  44. Lainie says:

    Anything new with Chinook ? We are nearing the dates in question . Just wondering. Thanks !

  45. JoGGer says:

    Those reindeer dont look too concerned by two of the world largest carnivores looking at them. Tatqiq has been sitting covered in mud watching them ‘longingly’ a couple of times now.

    Personally I think they’re tring to construct a tunnel into the deer exhibit 😉

  46. JoGGer says:

    By the way come to England guys 😀 we’re blanketed with lovely snow….

  47. JoGGer says:

    A first – a downpour in San Diego !!! First time Ive seen it rain there in the months Ive been viewing !!

  48. Mona says:

    How is mama Chinook (we so hope so)? Please!

    Moderator’s note: I wish!

  49. barbara says:

    I got to see chinook today in the back part of polar bear plunge she was watching Kalluk and Taqiq playing she looks lonely like she wants to come play to my heart got a ache in it Id love her come back but I also want to see little bears I guess we cant have it both ways guys how soon will you put her back with her pals! I dont want to be selfish but i miss her. My goodness what shall I do keep hopeing for little bears or seeing her back in the plunge!!!!! Best to you all Barbara

  50. JoGGer says:

    I’m wondering if Barbara has a point …Is Chinook being kept away from the others all of the time ? If so isn’t there a danger of alienating her ?

  51. MDS says:

    I have been told by customer service that snow will be coming for the polar bears in December…

    Mr or Mrs moderator, you mentionned you were raising money for snow for the 3 brown bears…
    Were you talking about polar bears that have been rolling on the floor all day?
    Are all the bears (brown and polar) getting snow?
    Can we send donations for the snow?


    Moderator’s note: I know we are still raising money for snow for brown bears, this time in the form of giant Candy Canes (see our Wish List for more info). I will find out if snow is in the forecast for polar bears.

  52. Mona says:

    Please any updates on Chinook would be greatly appreciated by all. Thanks So Much!

  53. anna says:

    Ohhhhh – i’m praying for a baby polar bear!!! i am hoping to visit the zoo in february… if there is a cub(s) would they be out for viewing? oh so excited!!!

    Moderator’s note: It’s looking less likely that a cub will be born this month–sorry!

  54. JoGGer says:

    Great cam as usual…. however it would be nice to know how to get rid of the play and pause symbols which mysteriously seem to appear of their own accord sometimes in the middle of a great spot of action ….

  55. JoGGer says:

    I’ve just spotted something which has intrigued me… there’s an area where the bears like to roll in the dirt – I’ve mentioned Tatqiq wistfully looking at the reindeer next door…then I noticed there looks as if the fence ends abruptly leaving a gap a bear could get through. Is there a massive drop on the other side ? What actually stops the bears getting into the reindeer ?

    JoAnne responds: The fence continues down through a gulley that the bears can go in, but the invisible barrier is the moat that separates both the main exhibit, the polar bear park, AND the reindeer yard! The bears and reindeer can come pretty close along the fence line, but so far no one seems to want to explore more than just a casual charge from time to time.

  56. Moderator says:

    #51 MDS

    No snow is planned for the polar bears at this time.

  57. Rick Johnson says:

    #54 JoGGer

    I have noticed that on my PC I will get the play/pause symbols if my mouse pointer passes over the video playback portion of the window.

  58. JoGGer says:

    Yes Rick that’s when it seems to happen to me. I also get a ‘rotating ring’ symbol which almost suggests a cam is ‘loading’….

  59. JoGGer says:

    Id like to direct a question to Jo Anne or any keeper looking and that is do any zoo keepers struggle with fears of certain animals… Id be interested to know if its feasible for a keeper to function say with any of the more usual animal phobias – snakes , spiders or rodents ?

    Myself I am fascinated by – and like – most animals but somewhere along the line, despite a fascination in dinosaurs and lizards and crocodiles, I still managed to acquire a fear of snakes.

    Moderator’s note: I know of one mammal keeper who is terrified by spiders 😉

  60. JoGGer says:

    Ive just discovered the gallery with some fantastic bear pics…. Is there any chance of fitting up a cam so those of us not fortunate enough to get to the zoo could actually see the bears underwater please ??

    Moderator’s note: That would be fun, but adding another Cam is not in our budget at this time.

  61. Rick in Ohio says:

    #30 Rudi & Moderator
    Thanks for telling us about the new cub in Denmark, I have seen the baby a few times so far.
    I would like to post the website for any who are interested but am not sure what a hyperlink is.
    I think if I type it out it is not a hyperlink & if you copy and paste from address bar it is?
    If I do something wrong, please let me know so I don’t do it again!
    I watch the cam @ aalborgzoo (dot) dk/fodehuletop My PC at work has the Bing toolbar to translate the Danish to English so I am able to read everything on the site. I really like the HD cams here at SDZ and plan to visit the zoo when I retire in about 2 yrs.

    Moderator’s note: You’re correct that we can’t allow direct links in our comments section, but we get around that by spelling out “dot” and our readers know they can replace the “(dot)” with a period if they are interested in viewing the link.

  62. JoGGer says:

    Hi Mod Can you say how much another cam set up to give underwater views would cost, Im just curious…thanks 🙂

    Moderator’s note: Have you got big pockets? 😉

  63. JoGGer says:

    No Mod but I wouldnt mind contributing to an underwater cam if enough others wanted the same thing……………