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Polar Bear At SeaWorld San Diego Artificially Inseminated

Photo caption: Dr. Justine O’Brien (back facing camera), scientific director of the SeaWorld...

Photo credit: Mike Aguilera/ SeaWorld® San Diego

Dr. Justine O’Brien (back facing camera), scientific director of the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Reproductive Research Center, is pictured leading a team of veterinarians and animal care specialists in the artificial insemination of Snowflake, a 19-year-old polar bear from SeaWorld San Diego.

A 19-year-old polar bear at SeaWorld San Diego has been artificially inseminated and will be checked this fall to see if she is pregnant, the theme park announced today.

SeaWorld and the Cincinnati Zoo are working together in an effort to get Snowflake pregnant. According to SeaWorld, representatives of the Cincinnati Zoo collected semen from a male polar bear at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.

Animal care specialists plan to check Snowflake's progesterone level early this fall to see if she's with cub. Females generally give birth to one to three cubs at a time, SeaWorld said.

"If Snowflake does become pregnant, we would expect to see an increase in her progesterone in the early fall, so August/September, and if that embryo does implant and develop, then we would expect to see a cub, or cubs, around November to January," said Justine O'Brien, scientific director of the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Reproductive Research Center: "So it is a very long wait and we will be monitoring her hormones in anticipation of what could happen."

Snowflake was sent to the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium last year to mate with a male polar bear, but the effort wasn't fruitful.

Theme park officials said polar bears are an endangered species because their sea ice habitat is declining.

O'Brien said the threat makes it important to learn about polar bear biology, especially reproduction, so they can be conserved more effectively.

"This information is helpful for also managing the zoo population, as well as understanding what's going on in the wild and if there are any issues with reproductive function that could be occurring in response to the stresses that we see on those wild populations," O'Brien said.

Separately, SeaWorld San Diego officials said the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health — Cal/OSHA — issued citations in connection with its killer whale program.

The nature of the citations was not disclosed. SeaWorld, which said it made "significant safety enhancements" to its killer whale program, plans to appeal.

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