Chicago Zoological Society

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October 2010
Posted: 10/16/2010 12:43:18 PM by Steve Pine

A record-setting dolphin study by the Chicago Zoological Society (CZS) and Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium has received a national award just in time for its 40th anniversary this month. The joint program earned top honors in the 2010 North American Conservation Award category from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The award recognizes exceptional efforts each year to preserve regional habitat, restore species, and support biodiversity in the wild.

“The Chicago Zoological Society and Mote Marine Laboratory are taking the lead in North American conservation,” said Jim Maddy, AZA president and CEO. “Conservation is a high priority of the two institutions, as well as all AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, and this award provides well-deserved national recognition for this important endeavor.”

The Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, which turns 40 this month, is a field program of the Chicago Zoological Society’s Dolphin Research & Conservation Institute (DRCI) and is the world’s longest-running study of a wild dolphin population. Program scientists have studied the 160 bottlenose dolphins living year-round in the “natural laboratory” setting of Sarasota Bay for more than five generations, gathering unparalleled data that inform marine mammal management and conservationists. The program is a collaboration with Mote Marine Laboratory and a number of other organizations from around the world.

“The heart and soul of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program are the people who work with the DRCI—the dedicated staff and students, long-term partners, and collaborators from around the world who produce these one-of-a-kind scientific studies, datasets, training opportunities, and conservation outcomes,” said Stuart Strahl, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society.

Based at Mote since 1970, the program is led by Dr. Randall Wells, senior conservation scientist for CZS. Wells and his staff recognize each of Sarasota Bay’s dolphins by taking photos of their dorsal fins, which have unique nicks and notches that function like fingerprints. Program scientists monitor individual dolphins through monthly photo ID surveys, health assessment, behavioral observations, and other techniques.

Dr. Randy Wells

“We study these dolphins through their lives, from the day they are born until after they die,” said Wells. “We have a unique understanding of how they are affected by changes in their environment, both natural and manmade."

Program scientists currently focus on characterizing and mitigating human impacts on dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico, such as ingestion or entanglement with fishing gear, vessel strikes, environmental contaminants, and coastal development.

“Randy Wells has studied the dolphins of Sarasota Bay since he was a volunteer at Mote during his high school years. His dedication is a key part of the program’s legacy, and he is now one of the world’s most respected dolphin biologists,” said Dr. Kumar Mahadevan, president of Mote. “Today, our colleagues from around the globe come to learn the techniques his team has pioneered.”

The program is recognized internationally for its unique relevance to emerging environmental issues such as providing baseline information for the long-term effects of the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The program is also internationally renowned for its many scientific publications based on unparalleled long-term data from continuous studies over many years.

Building on this knowledge, the program has been a global training center for dolphin scientists, research fellows, and graduate and undergraduate students. Its education efforts include outreach for mitigation of human interactions, exhibit displays at Brookfield Zoo and Mote Aquarium, and field experiences for exceptional high school students.
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Posted: 10/11/2010 7:19:03 PM by Steve Pine

 "We need to stop talking about what we should do,
and start doing what we need to do."

As we return from Churchill, Manitoba, after a weeklong stay with Polar Bears International on the Tundra Buggy Lodge on the shores of Hudson Bay, the words of Dr. Andrew Durochet are stuck in my head. Durochet, a longtime polar bear researcher and a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta (and past chair of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group), spoke to our group of educators and communicators via Skype about polar bears and the Arctic ecosystem of Hudson Bay.

Dr. Durochet stressed that the plight of the polar bear, which many believe may disappear entirely from Hudson Bay by mid-century, is really about habitat loss. The ephemeral Arctic sea ice that comes and goes each season forms the basis of an ecosystem that is under assault. Polar bears are the apex species, but smaller changes in the ecosystem affect the polar bear in substantial ways. Polar shrimp are prey for polar cod, which are in turn fed upon by ringed seals, the main source of food for polar bears. As the habitat is altered, primarily by the warming of the oceans due to climate change, there are shifts in the food web. Atlantic cod displace polar cod as the sea warms, killer whales follow the Atlantic cod and also prey upon ringed seals that are staying out further from the bay during longer summers. Less ringed seals, less nourishment for polar bears in the winter, and reproduction rates go down.

For me, the takeaway is that the issue of climate change, while politically charged, is a complex one...but the destruction of an ecoystem, due to pollution and excess greenhouse gases, is not so complicated. We simply have to mobilize to make our votes, and our consumer dollar, count on the issue of climate change--and we also have to start at home in reducing our carbon emissions. Basically, to take my grandfather's favorite expression, put your money where your mouth is. Or, as Durochet put it: "I beleive that if people are concerned about the effects of habitat loss and climate change, then they need to act at a grassroots level. We've done enough research. There has to be a groundswell of change if we want to be on the right side of history."

For starters here's 5 Actions You Can Take at Home:

    • Change 5 lights
      Change a light, and you help change the world. Replace the conventional bulbs in your 5 most frequently used light fixtures with bulbs that have the ENERGY STAR and you will help the environment while saving money on energy bills. If every household in the U.S. took this one simple action we would prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions from nearly 10 million cars.

    • Look for ENERGY STAR qualified products
      When buying new products, such as appliances for your home, get the features and performance you want AND help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. Look for ENERGY STAR qualified products in more than 50 product categories, including lighting, home electronics, heating and cooling equipment and appliances.

    • Heat and cool smartly
      Simple steps like cleaning air filters regularly and having your heating and cooling equipment tuned annually by a licensed contractor can save energy and increase comfort at home, and at the same time reduce greenhouse gas emissions. When it's time to replace your old equipment, choose a high efficiency model, and make sure it is properly sized and installed.

    • Seal and insulate your home
      Sealing air leaks and adding more insulation to your home is a great do-it-yourself project. The biggest leaks are usually found in the attic and basement. If you are planning to replace windows, choose ENERGY STAR qualified windows for better performance. Forced air ducts that run through unconditioned spaces are often big energy wasters. Seal and insulate any ducts in attics and crawlspaces to improve the efficiency of your home.


    • Be green in your yard
      Use a push mower, which, unlike a gas or electric mower, consumes no fossil fuels and emits no greenhouse gases. If you do use a power mower, make sure it is a mulching mower to reduce grass clippings. Composting your food and yard waste reduces the amount of garbage that you send to landfills and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.


(from Action Steps: What You Can Do at Home on


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Posted: 10/7/2010 7:01:12 AM by Steve Pine

Thanks to Polar Bears International (PBI), we're reporting directly from the Arctic tundra this week during a Communicators Leadership Camp in Churchill, Manitoba, observing polar bears in the wild, and most importantly, studying the effects of accerlerating climate change on the environment. 


Another day of learning on the tundra on the banks of Hudson Bay about the plight of the polar bear and the fragile state of the Arctic Sea. But, with timely action and the concerted efforts of everyday conservationists, like you and me, we can make progress in reducing our carbon footprint. That's a tall order but it's what were charged with today, by the future generation of concerned students and by the president of Polar Bears International, Robert Buchanan.


We conducted another distance learning class with an elementary school in Herrera, Texas, via Skype. We communicated with them about life in Manitoba, for campers in the Tundra Buggy Lodge, but more urgently, for the endangered polar bear struggling with melting sea ice and shorter hunting seasons. The students left us with some words of encouragement but were concerned that the polar bears would be safe for years to come.


Robert Buchanan, the enigmatic, dedicated president of PBI, also talked about our responsibility to dive deeper into own conscience--"look in the mirror"--and not waste any more time if we are serious about taking actions to reduce our carbon footprint. How are we going to respond? He challenged us to let go of our ususal way of thinking about ecology and that talking about it is not enough. He reminded the assembled educators and communcators that "you are mentors for the next generation of conservationists."


After the energizing morning of long-distance education, and educating, two polar bears came within a few feet of the Lodge, reenforcing the urgency of our conservation messages. In the wild, polar bears can be snow white or appear out of nowhere covered in kelp stains, with muddy paws from stomping through the tidal flats. They gather in Churchill, in the vicinity of Hudson Bay, waiting for ice to form so they can push out to sea and look for ringed seal, their primary source of nourishment. But the evidence, and the science behind it, is straightforward:


Here's a video to help you understand some of the issues behind the science of climate change:


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Posted: 10/6/2010 10:52:40 PM by Steve Pine

Thanks to Polar Bears International (PBI), we're reporting directly from the Arctic tundra this week during a Communicators Leadership Camp in Churchill, Manitoba, observing polar bears in the wild, and most importantly, studying the effects of accerlerating climate change on the environment.



We started the day with a visit from one of Churchill's signature species, a polar bear wandering right next to our Tundra Buggy Lodge. But today was also a full day of inspirational presentations, notes and news from our climate change experts, and close encounters with elementary students via Skype...and close encounters with polar bears. From a World Wildlife Fund conservation officer to elementary students via digital conference we explored the world of the Arctic and the environmental changes taking place. We also hit the tundra but it was for an exploratory trip to a forest with one of our camp facilitators, Avery Dorland, a forestry expert with the Wisconsin DNR. Check out his quick video primer on why forests are a "win-win" when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint:

We really began our day of learning via Skype, hearing from Geoff York, a polar bear biologist and World Wildlife Fund Senior Conservation Officer with the Arctic Network Initiative, who broke down WWF's international projects on climate change and the organization's dedicated role in saving the polar bear and its Arctic habitat.

Next we turned around the cameras around on ourselves, connecting via Skype with two elementary schools located in rural North Carolina, giving them background facts on polar bears, a few tidbits on life on the Tundra Buggies, and our impressions of Churchill wildlife. They also showered us with questions, including why we chose to not shower for the five days on the Tundra Buggy Lodge! (We doing our part to reduce water usage at this remote location and we were challenged by zookeepers...if you really want to know).

After saying goodbye to the students, we hit the tundra in search of forest land, seeing snow buntings, ptarmigan birds (like prairie chickens), arctic fox...and polar bears along the coast of Churchill Bay, waiting for the sea ice to form. We found a thin tree line not far from the tidal flat and we piled out to hear from Avery Dorland, a forestry expert with the Wisconsin DNR playing the role of camp facilitator. The surprisingly diverse area includes lichens, a staple of caribou herds that will wander through these parts, usually in winter. After that, back on the Tundra Buggies for the trip back to the Lodge.

Here's a few photos from the day, another jam-packed immersion training day...and yes, polar bears.







revised 10/12/10



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Posted: 10/5/2010 7:17:15 AM by Steve Pine

Our mobile classroom of educators and communicators, part of Polar Bear International's Leadership Camp, departed Winnipeg early in the morning and made our way to Churchill, Manitoba. Before making our way to the Tundra Buggy Lodge, we toured the small town on Hudson Bay, remote but rife with history and wildlife. We met with a local couple in town, Jim and Betty, aboriginal trappers, now "semi-retired", who shared their way of life of living off the land, trapping for a living, and who spoke of their deep respect for the animals and habitat of Manitoba.

We hit the beach, a cold, windy beach. (Hey, it’s the Arctic.) We toured the Polar Bear Holding Facility, a "detention center" for polar bears that wander too close to town and its inhabitants. It's the only one of its kind in the world, actually, and locals can call a hotline if they spot bears in the vicinity. Normally, townspeople and local authorities try to scare the bears off with loud noise but wildlife officers are called in if that doesn't take. The bears are housed there temporarily and relocated by conservation officers to more remote locations. (They employ a humane mobile trap to bring the bothersome bears out to the facility.)

From there we loaded up the Tundra Buggies, courtesy of Frontiers North Adventure, and made our bumpy way out to the Lodge on the tundra—the Tundra Buggy Lodge—taking in incredible views of unique wildlife along the route. (The trails are former Canadian military roads and the land where the Buggies operate is protected by the Manitoba Conservation Wilderness Area.) The tundra is not covered by snow yet but it afforded great views of arctic foxes, ptamarigans (a northern bird species), arctic swans, snow buntings, common eider ducks, lesser yellowlegs (northern prairie chicken), a bald eagle, short-eared owls, and yes, polar bears.

More on the threat to polar bears tomorrow and below are some images from the 
below is the group blog that can also be found on PBI's site here:

“…when it is this quiet you can feel the wilderness.” Day Two started early with the smile of a waning moon—and will last a lifetime.

Our team of 17 individuals left the Winnipeg airport before sunrise, heading north to Churchill. As the dark pre-dawn sky began to paint the horizon in shades of rose we sat on a propeller plane, flying over a landscape dotted with land that interrupts the rivers and lakes below.

As the plane began to descend and Hudson Bay came in to view, our adventure in the land of the white bear was just beginning. We explored the many aspects of conservation. Guest speakers included trappers where we learned their love and stewardship of the land, as well as Manitoba Conservation officers who shared their responsibility and privilege of assisting man and polar bear living harmoniously.

During our amazing first day in the tundra we saw seven polar bears, an arctic fox, tundra swans, snow geese, willow ptarmigan, snow buntings, short-eared owls and two bald eagles. As we spent the day in awe, we realized the 17 individuals that set out this morning will quickly become one voice for conservation.

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Posted: 10/4/2010 7:12:33 AM by Steve Pine

At our pre-launch event in Winnipeg for our Communicators Leadership Camp on Climate Change (in Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay) and Polar Bear Conservation with Polar Bears International, education manager Agnes Kovacs and I were joined by 17 other attendees and given a send-off pep talk by by the teens and young adult members of the Manitoba Arctic Ambassador Network (MAAN), a group of past graduates of PBI Leadership Camp. (A CZS Youth Volunteer Corp graduate Katie Billing attended the same camp in 2008.)

Here is what we learned from them and also blogged on the PBI site here:

You are going to be tasked with changing the world—but it is not that daunting because you can do it one action at a time. They then provided a variety of projects that they have completed, individually and as a team.

We also heard from Frontiers North's Tundra Buggy Adventures and the Four Points Sheraton about how they are taking the steps towards fulfilling the responsibility of sustainable practices, including the fact that our meal tonight came from no more than 100 miles away.

Our challenge: How do we create a cultural shift in people, that it isn’t OK to not reduce greenhouse gases? How do we make this catchy and engaging? How do we make being an environmental steward cool and a part of everyone’s life?

As one of the inspiring teens that night put it regarding polar bear conservation: the future generation is telling their elders, “Get cracking!”

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Posted: 10/3/2010 10:43:24 PM by Steve Pine

Thanks to Polar Bears International (PBI), we'll be reporting directly from the Arctic tundra this week, observing polar bears in the wild, and most importantly, studying the effects of accerlerating climate change on the environment.


Brookfield Zoo is an Arctic Ambassador Center and a partner with PBI, a conservation group based in Churchill, Manitoba. Polar bears gather each year outside Churchill on the shores of Hudson Bay, awaiting the return of the sea ice where they normally hunt and breed. In recent years, though, Arctic sea ice has retreated dramatically primarily due to increasing global temperatures,and polar bears are under severe threat from this habitat loss.


We'll be blogging right from the Tundra Buggies where we'll be spending our week, hearing from field scientists, colleagues, and Churchill residents about how climate disruption affects polar bears and the Arctic. And, we'll learn and share ways to inspire action—from individuals to entire communities-in reducing their carbon footprint.


Stay tuned for updates on our Conservation Action Blog ....and for starters, check out this video with Polar head onto the Alaskan sea ice with Dr. Steven C. Amstrup, a polar bear scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey. Dr. Amstrup talks about his 25-year career studying polar bears in the Arctic and shares his impressions of how the landscape has changed.

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Posted: 10/1/2010 3:53:22 PM by Steve Pine

In partnership with Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, here’s an updated Palm Oil Candy Guide (PDF) just in time for Halloween. The information is meant to be a helpful guide for consumers that are concerned about orangutan conservation and deforestation due to non-sustainable palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia. The companies listed in the guide are members of the RSPO (Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil) and are committed to using certified sustainable palm oil. Please support companies that are doing their best to make a difference for orangutans.

Click Here for an easy way you can make a difference for wild orangutans, by asking Hershey’s and Mars to join the RSPO.
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