Point Defiance Zoo euthanizes polar bear, cancer tumor grew to size of watermelon

The Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma announced that one of its polar bears, Blizzard, was humanely euthanized due to a rapid decline of his health and a cancer growth.

26-year-old Blizzard was diagnosed with liver cancer in Sept. 2021 and was receiving chemotherapy and other treatments to slow the progression of the disease. However, Dr. Karen Wolf, the zoo's head veterinarian, said his quality of life deteriorated rapidly over the past week. 

The elderly bear was trained to voluntarily participate in his medical care, learning to put a paw through a specially built sleeve in his bedroom so veterinary staff could obtain the voluntary blood samples that were critical to monitoring his health, the zoo said. 

Preliminary results of his necropsy showed that the cancer mass in his liver had grown to the size of a giant watermelon. 

"The entire Point Defiance Zoo family is devastated by the loss of this extraordinary bear," said Point Defiance Zoo director Alan Varsik. "Blizzard held a special place in our hearts and touched the lives of millions of people during the two decades he was with us. He inspired people to care deeply about polar bears and to take action in their own lives to reduce their carbon footprint and help protect wild polar bears."

Blizzard was rescued as an orphaned cub in Canada before coming to Point Defiance Zoo in 1997. He’d been separated from his mother on the Arctic tundra and had no chance of survival.

He lived to be 26, three years past the average life expectancy of polar bears in captivity. 

"Blizzard also helped play a critical role in helping researchers learn more about his species. In early 2019, he allowed small patches of his fur to be dyed black so University of Washington scientists could study the rate of polar bear hair growth in order to evaluate stress levels, contaminant exposure and nutritional needs in wild polar bears.  More recently, he was one of a handful of bears to voluntarily participate in "Burr on Fur," a national study of prototype technology to help scientists track and study movement patterns of polar bears in the wild," the zoo said. 

The Point Defiance Zoo is certified by Polar Bears International as an Arctic Ambassador Center and have been taking in polar bears for 80 years. 

The polar bear is listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission has designated the species as facing a high risk of global extinction.