AboutZoos, Since 2008


San Diego Zoo polar bear being con­di­tioned to wear accelerometer

pub­lished 23 Decem­ber 2014 | mod­i­fied 23 Decem­ber 2014

Polar bear Tatqiq San Diego ZooTatqiq, a female polar bear at the San Diego Zoo, is wear­ing a bit more than her fur coat these days. Vis­i­tors to the Zoo and watch­ers of the Zoo’s Polar Cam may see a white col­lar occa­sion­ally around her neck while keep­ers are con­di­tion­ing the bear to par­tic­i­pate in an upcom­ing research project about polar bear behav­iour in the Arctic.

Polar bears (Ursus mar­itimus) are one of 4 marine mam­mal species man­aged by the U.S. Depart­ment of Inte­rior. The US Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey (USGS) Alaska Sci­ence Cen­ter con­ducts long-​term research on polar bears to inform local, state, national and inter­na­tional pol­icy mak­ers regard­ing con­ser­va­tion of the species and its habi­tat. The stud­ies, ongo­ing since 1985, are focused on pop­u­la­tion dynam­ics, habi­tat use, for­ag­ing ecol­ogy and health. The major­ity of USGS research is con­ducted on the South­ern Beau­fort Sea pop­u­la­tion of Alaska and neigh­bour­ing Canada. The goal of their cur­rent research efforts is to refine and enhance mod­els to project the future sta­tus of polar bears in the rapidly chang­ing Arc­tic envi­ron­ment, as part of the Chang­ing Arc­tic Ecosys­tem Ini­tia­tive.

This project is being led by the U.S. Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey in Alaska and is a great exam­ple of how Zoo bears can help with con­ser­va­tion of polar bears in the Arctic
Megan Owen, asso­ciate direc­tor in the Applied Ani­mal Ecol­ogy Divi­sion, San Diego Zoo Insti­tute for Con­ser­va­tion Research »

For now, the col­lar is held together with tem­po­rary, easy-​to-​remove ties so that the bear can choose to pull it off or it will fall off eas­ily if snagged on any­thing within the Polar Bear Plunge exhibit. Even­tu­ally, Tatqiq will wear a col­lar with a small accelerom­e­ter, which is the same instru­ment that allows smart phones to auto­mat­i­cally adjust their screen orientation.

The instru­ment is able to mea­sure Tatqiq’s move­ments at extremely high fre­quen­cies; how­ever, these mea­sure­ments are abstract with­out see­ing the behav­iours they cor­re­spond with so Tatqiq will also be video­taped while wear­ing the col­lar. The data recorded from the col­lar will be paired with her move­ments on the video so researchers can inter­pret the data and under­stand which mea­sure­ments cor­re­spond to dif­fer­ent behav­iours, such as div­ing into the water, rest­ing, walk­ing or running.

Mea­sur­ing Tatqiq’s move­ments at the San Diego Zoo will pro­vide a base­line by which to iden­tify behav­iours for bears wear­ing the accelerom­e­ter col­lars in the wild. The polar bear’s remote Arc­tic sea ice habi­tat makes it near impos­si­ble for direct obser­va­tions of polar bear behav­iour in the wild. The data gained from accelerom­e­ters on col­lared polar bears in the Arc­tic will pro­vide U.S. Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey sci­en­tists with new insights into the bears’ daily behav­iour, move­ments and energy needs and a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the effects of cli­mate change on polar bears.

Because ani­mal care staff does not have direct con­tact with Tatqiq, mod­i­fi­ca­tions were made to an area in the polar bear bed­room to allow the col­lar to be placed on Tatqiq’s neck while she slurps a honey-​water treat.

Tatqiq cur­rently wears the col­lar about three times a week for two to three hours at a time, work­ing up to a goal of five hours. While she is wear­ing the col­lar, she is the only polar bear allowed in the habitat.

The San Diego Zoo is home to three polar bears: Tatqiq, her brother Kalluk and another female, Chi­nook. Polar bears are a threat­ened species due to cli­mate change-​driven habi­tat loss.

(Source: San Diego Zoo polar bear blogs, 26.11.2014; USGS Alaska Sci­ence Cen­ter, Polar bear research)

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