SeaWorld’s Lone Polar Bear Dies Unexpectedly, But it Doesn’t Have to Happen Again

It was another sad day at SeaWorld last Thursday when its last remaining polar bear, Johnny died unexpectedly after spending 19 years in captivity at the park.

No one’s sure what happened, and we won’t have answers until a necropsy is completed. However, according to SeaWorld, Johnny had undergone a scheduled physical exam under anesthesia, and park vets believe he experienced a cardiac arrest during recovery. His death has left both park staff and visitors mourning his passing.

“Johnny was a part of our animal family,” Mike Boos, SeaWorld Orlando’s vice president of zoological operations, told the Orlando Sentinel. Team members are “feeling the loss, in much the same way a family does when they lose an older pet.”

Sadly Johnny wasn’t the only polar bear to die unexpectedly at SeaWorld. His death follows on the heels of Klondike’s, who also died unexpectedly last fall at the age of 18. His sister, Snow, also died of unknown causes a year earlier, a few months after being moved from SeaWorld to the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, Ariz.

Johnny may have been old for a polar bear — scientists put their average lifespan in the wild at 25-30 years — but now a conservation group has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture alleging neglect and urging the agency to initiate a formal investigation.

The Global Conservation Group’s Division of Legal Affairs is arguing that under the Animal Welfare Act, Johnny should have had adequate shelter and veterinary care at all times, which the group believes he did not.

While the debate surrounding captivity at SeaWorld has largely centered on orcas, others still believe that polar bears are a species who also do extremely poorly in captivity and should be phased out completely because no enclosures can meet the needs of these far-ranging animals who require cold temperatures to thrive, even with the best of intentions and updated facilities.

Polar bears are believed to inhabit the largest space of any terrestrial animal species. According to The Great Bear Almanac, the range of a single polar bear is more than 20,000 square miles. They also spend so much time swimming that they’re classified as a marine mammal in the U.S and are protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

In captivity, researchers have found that among other problems, a typical enclosure is about one-millionth of their minimum home-range in the wild. They believe this is part of the reason polar bears show stereotypic behaviors, breed so poorly in captivity and have a high cub mortality rate. Everything about their physical features also makes them specifically built to thrive in cold weather, not places like Orlando.

While people continue to fight to move captive polar bears including Yupi, who is in Mexico, and Arturo, who is in Argentina, to better facilities, SeaWorld could take a step towards ending the practice of confining these large predators in inadequate enclosures in inappropriate climates by keeping Johnny’s exhibit empty.


Please sign and share the petition asking SeaWorld to show Johnny their love by committing to leave polar bears in the wild.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Kay M.
Kay M.2 months ago

I DID NOT MAKE THIS COMMENT BELOW - I DO NOT KNOW WHO DID AND I WISH IT TO BE REMOVED- I am sad that the polar bear died- but i object to my avatar and name being used to make comments i did not make ---sincerely KAY M.---i just checked thru all of the signatures going back over one year- i did make a comment - but this one below me here -was not my comment- sincerely KAY M.

Kay M.
Kay M.2 months ago

Sad day for SLEAZEWORLD???? You speciesist. This was a sad day for a CAPTIVE POLAR BEAR that could have been moved to an appropriately liberating environment rather than die on display at ugly, subpar, tiny, fake SleazeWorld.

Shelley Ottenbrite
Shelley Ottenbrite2 months ago

Sad day for SLEAZEWORLD???? You speciesist. This was a sad day for a CAPTIVE POLAR BEAR that could have been moved to an appropriately liberating environment rather than die on display at ugly, subpar, tiny, fake SleazeWorld.

Jim Ven
Jim Venabout a year ago

thanks for the article.

Marlene Dinkins
Marlene dinkins2 years ago

noted with sadness . RIP BELOVED JOHNNY.!!!!!! ABSOLUTELY SAD NEWS!!!!!!

Linda Barnett
Linda Barnett2 years ago

From the reports that have been made public, it is quite obvious that Polar Bears do not do well in captivity. SeaWorld has quite a tarnished record having lost the 3 Polar Bears that the public knows about! No Polar Bear should ever be captured and imprisoned in ab unnatural habitat. None of our wildlife should ever be subjected to being taken from its natural habitat and locked up in a zoo or any other establishment, and for what, man's selfish entertainment! Shame on SeaWorld for creating such a miserable life for this majestic Polar Bear, Johnny. To view the video was quite disturbing. The unnatural enclosure, the constant noise and being kept in such a confined space in solitary was nothing short of animal abuse. No wild animal is an exhibit and to treat any animal in such a manner is both disrespectful and cruel. Thank goodness Johnny is now free from his prison.

Michael Kirkby
Michael Kirkby2 years ago

These animals don't belong in zoos or any other type of limited enclosure.

Vesper B.
Vesper B.2 years ago

Since he was the only polar bear he might have been lonely.

Yvonne Wey

Polar Bears should never be in Zoos or animal sanctuarys or such like they belong in the Artic They travel great distances and in captivity they are bored sick

Amy D.
Amy D.2 years ago