Drawing blood from polar bears and microwaving grapes

As I’ve clearly been unable to brain today, and can’t find much to inspire me, enjoy these two science-y videos. In the first one, sent by reader Michael, we see how the Toronto Zoo draws blood from a polar bear.  The clue is to distract the bear with delicious seal oil while he gets a stick in the paw.  The Zoo hastens to reassure viewers that bears aren’t forced to do this:

Watch the full video above to see male polar bear ‘Hudson’ participate in a voluntary blood draw session. In the video Hudson voluntarily allows Wildlife Health Technician, Dawn, to draw blood from his paw. All of the Zoo’s polar bears have the choice to leave the session at any time and they are positively reinforced for participating in the training. These behaviours not only keep the polar bears physically healthy, but mentally stimulated and engaged. Zoo staff voluntarily draw blood from each of the polar bears twice a month to compare their blood levels regularly as their diets vary seasonally.

Well, they don’t hurt the bear, but where do they get that seal oil?

Apparently there’s a YouTube craze of young folks microwaving grapes which, when they’re in pairs, creates sparks, as you see below.  So, if you go to a soirée that has grapes and a microwave in the kitchen, you can be the life of the party!

Why does this happen with grapes? Well, you can read the condensed version at Science or a longer explanation at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by clicking on the screenshot below.

I can’t help thinking that Khattak et al. did this out of pure fun, which would make a great Gary Larson cartoon. (That is, if Larson hadn’t demoralized a generation of scientists by ceasing to make cartoons.)

Anyhow, watch the video:



  1. Posted February 20, 2019 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a great video explaining the grapes including a discussion with the study authors.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 20, 2019 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Thank you that explained something that puzzled me – how a grape-sized object can act as a resonator for 12 centimetre wavelength microwaves [the standard wavelength for domestic microwave ovens].

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 20, 2019 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Well, they don’t hurt the bear, but where do they get that seal oil?

    You sayin’ they don’t just come in and donate it, like blood during a Red Cross drive?

    • Posted February 20, 2019 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      The seals volunteer the old stuff after they get their oil changed at Jiffy Lube.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted February 20, 2019 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

      On eBay, of course.

  3. Joe
    Posted February 20, 2019 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    I predict the grape experiment will win an Ignobel Prize this/next year.
    If you haven’t been following them, some are awarded for really bad pseudo-science that deserves to be mocked, but some are awarded to “real” science that is fun or bizarre. For example, one was awarded to the bear researcher who walked among Grizzlies in a thick suit of armor.

  4. Posted February 20, 2019 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

    I once talked to Canadian researcher who said he was studying DNA variants in grizzly bears. I immediately said that I guessed you could get population samples of maybe 100 bears a year for maybe $2 million if you had a team, trucks, dogs, and tranquilizer dart guns. He started laughing and said his graduate student walked the mountain trails, alone, with a backpack full of test tubes, and when she saw bear scat she scooped some up and labeled it. With luck, she would never see a bear. You could recover bear DNA from the scat easily. (I realize that the blood is needed here to assay all sorts of molecules, not just to sequence DNA).

  5. Posted February 20, 2019 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    There are no fields in which for me to leave my name or other info. Those fields simply don’t show up here for me. I used WordPress for my own blog for several years until I canceled it due to health problems recently. Rather than a WordPress problem per se, my first guess would be that this is a problem with a plugin that creates the form. I assume you’ve investigated that, but just in case . . . .

    Bill Dearmore

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 21, 2019 at 3:41 am | Permalink

      Do you have a comment box at the bottom of the page Bill? Above & to the left of “Blog at WordPress.com”

      What does it say above that box if you have it? “Post a Comment” with “Logged in as xxxxxx. Log out?” on the line below that?

      Do all the published comments have just the word “Reply” beneath each of them [no box]

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