The Exhibits team has begun pulling a variety of Arctic specimens out of storage in preparation for ‘Tis the Season for Science, the Academy’s upcoming holiday celebration with a science twist. The largest of these specimens, a polar bear which has been in the Academy’s collections for decades, has developed some bald patches and lost a couple of toes over the years- he needs some TLC before going on display in late November.
Getting a bear ready for its close-up is not a Hollywood affair, it takes the careful work of a trained preparator, who knows just how to clean polar bear fur, and restore the damaged areas using archival materials. This process begins next week in the Project Lab.
Step 1: Hair plugs. To fill in the small bald patches on the bear’s coat, preparator Alicia will take samples of hair from the bear’s armpit or another inconspicuous area, where the fur is the right color and length. Then, 20-30 hairs at a time, she’ll embed them in the bare area. Just like with human hair plugs, the smaller the clusters of hair, the more realistic the effect.
Step 2: Making new toes. Believe it or not, there is a company out there who makes casts of grizzly bear claws, but if they are not a good match, Alicia will craft toes and claws of her own.
Step 3: Vacuuming. Black & Decker doesn’t make a “fur” model, but luckily it turns out that a standard vacuum cleaner does the trick when it comes to cleaning the dirt and grit out of a polar bear mount.
Alicia has a variety of tricks up her sleeve to fix other problem areas as well – come by to check out the work in-progress next week, and of course, don’t miss the final results, which will be on display from November 23 – January 2. ‘Tis the Season for Science will also feature a pair of live reindeer, indoor snow flurries, and a suite of polar- and winter-themed special programs for the whole family.
Other Arctic specimens being prepared for display include a Dall sheep (above), weasel, and snowy owl – all of which have developed incredible adaptations to life in the extreme cold.