Blizzard, the 26-year-old polar bear who had been at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma since he was orphaned as a cub, was euthanized Sunday due to a rapidly growing cancerous tumor.
Blizzard was diagnosed with liver cancer in September 2021 and had chemotherapy and other treatments, according to the zoo, but his quality of life quickly deteriorated over the past week.
The tumor had grown to the size of a watermelon, the zoo said.
"The entire Point Defiance Zoo family is devastated by the loss of this extraordinary bear," said director Alan Varsik in a post on the zoo's website. "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 Churchill, Canada, before coming to the zoo in 1997. He had been separated from his mother on the Arctic tundra and had no chance of survival there, the zoo said.
At 26, he had lived past the median life expectancy of 23 years for polar bears in human care, according to statistics from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.
Assistant Curator Sheriden Ploof, who was one of his primary caregivers, said in the zoo's post that Blizzard had been trained to voluntarily participate in his own medical care, learning to put a paw through a specially built sleeve in his bedroom so veterinary staff could obtain the blood samples that were critical to monitoring his health.
Blizzard also played a critical role in helping researchers learn more about his species. In early 2019, small patches of his fur were 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 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.
"Blizzard was feisty, smart and always eager to learn new things," Ploof said. "He loved pouncing, playing with his big barrels, splashing in his pool, and practicing his stalking and hunting skills. He was an exceptional animal who will be deeply missed by everyone who knew him."