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How Did This Snow Bear Get Its Belly Button? We Need Answers


Stonehenge, the Great Pyramids of Giza, the giant statues of Easter Island - all mysteries of engineering that speak to the ingenuity of humankind. One more was added to that list this week - a giant bear drawn into the snow on a frozen-over Montreal canal.

KATE MCKENNA: So this bear is probably about 12 feet wide from, like, the outside of his belly to the other outside of his body. And he's probably about 30 feet tall. And in the middle, without any footsteps there or back, there is a belly button that is kind of confounding the whole world right now.

SHAPIRO: That's reporter Kate McKenna of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. She broke the bear belly button story which has now gone global.

MCKENNA: I saw the bear before work. And I took a picture because I thought it was cute. And it wasn't until I got back to my apartment that I started really, like, pondering the belly button and asking my friends, like, what they thought happened.

And then we thought - I thought it would be kind of cute to just spend an hour writing it up really quickly. I thought it might have some local appeal. And then it went nuts. Like, I woke up the next morning, I turned on the TV and it was a rival station. And they were saying my name. And they were showing my picture of the snow bear. So it was like, oh, this is going to be a thing now (laughter).

SHAPIRO: So at our morning ALL THINGS CONSIDERED editorial meeting, in between talking about the 2020 presidential race and Venezuela, we discussed ways this belly button could have been made. And, frankly, none of the theories were satisfying. So what are the best theories that you've heard?

MCKENNA: So the big ones are like somehow that the person jumped from the outside to the inside which is like a six-foot jump, but it's not impossible I guess. Another theory is snowballs, that somebody threw snowballs into the center of the bear. Drones are really popular. Somebody used a tool like a hockey stick or the deep belly button was there first and they built the bear around the belly button.

But then I've heard just totally - not crazy, just like super elaborate theories like, you know, a lot of people - maybe because we're in Canada - believe fishing gear was somehow involved. So, like, they took like a fishing rod and like a boot and like kind of like flung the fishing line out to the center of the bear.

SHAPIRO: You got a really compelling piece of evidence last night that sort of gave you a bit of a breakthrough.

MCKENNA: Yeah. That's absolutely right. So I got a message from someone yesterday who has a picture of kind of like the making of the bear. And it shows two people making a bear on the ice around 10:00 the night before I saw it.

SHAPIRO: But they're not carrying a hockey stick or a fishing pole or any of the other things that are involved in these theories.

MCKENNA: Exactly. It looks like a very mom-and-pop operation.

SHAPIRO: Do they look like long jumpers? Do they look like the kind of people who could jump six feet?

MCKENNA: I mean, from a distance, they look pretty athletic. I'll give them that. But, I mean, this was like a couple friends who were out on the canal and thought, oh, it'd be fun to make a bear, not some sort of like giant, elaborate operation.

SHAPIRO: So what's your favorite theory right now?

MCKENNA: So I've, like, oscillated. I kind of believe that maybe they jumped.

SHAPIRO: I think I'm in the snowball camp. I think they threw snowballs to make the belly button.

MCKENNA: I mean, it's not impossible.

SHAPIRO: I mean, six feet, it's not that hard to have great aim.

MCKENNA: No, that's true. And, you know, we have a lot of Petanque players here. We have a lot of boccie players in Montreal. So it's conceivable that they're just really good throwers.

SHAPIRO: Well, your photo of this snow bear is now immortal, belly button and all. But what about the bear itself?

MCKENNA: I have sad news.

SHAPIRO: Like a mandala in the sand.

MCKENNA: (Laughter) It was really windy in Montreal the night after I took the picture, and the bear, you know, is no longer - the wind carried the bear away.

SHAPIRO: Kate McKenna from the CBC speaking with us from Montreal. Thank you.

MCKENNA: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: OK. Since we recorded that conversation earlier in the day, there has been a breakthrough in this case. Kate McKenna spoke with one of the women who made the bear and then went on Facebook Live.


MCKENNA: She tells me that she just threw five snowballs individually, and that created the belly button that is now kind of internationally famous.

SHAPIRO: Team snowball for the win. I'm not trying to gloat, but for the sake of journalistic transparency, you need to know I'm doing a little dance in my chair in the studio right now. If you want to see the snow bear for yourself, I've tweeted out a link to Kate McKenna's story on Twitter. I'm @arishapiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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