Most polar bear hybrids said to exist have not been confirmed by DNA testing

Although there are only two confirmed polar bear X grizzly hybrids (see recent posts here and here) – one in 2006 and a 2nd generation back cross in 2010 – there have been a few other unconfirmed sightings and/or hunters reports in addition to the Arviat animal shot last week, but how many?

Hybrid sightings Victoria Island spring 2012 Jodie Pongracz_GNWT

In a CBC radio interview today (27 May 2016), polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher claimed there have now been 9 polar bear/grizzly hybrids reported in Canada (with the Arviat animal shot last week being the 9th).

I think I’ve tracked down the details on those six unconfirmed Canadian sightings, plus another from Alaska. But as you will see, some of the reports are so vague it’s hard to know whether these are the animals Derocher counts as hybrids or not.
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Polar bear hybrid update: samples sent for DNA testing to rule out blonde grizzly

That putative polar bear hybrid shot in Arviat last week has been sent for DNA testing.

hybrid-bear_didji-ishalook-15 May2016_facebook

Just out from NunatsiaqOnline (24 May 2016): Nunavut biologist sends possible “grolar” bear DNA for analysis: Unusual bear killed in Arviat could just be a blonde grizzly bear

Additional details confirm the animal shot was a female, which could account for the fact it was described as “small”. The Nunavut biologist who sent in the sample for testing warned it could also be a blonde grizzly, as I pointed out last week.

UPDATE 24 May 2016: Comments added below from a Toronto Star news report below on the hybrid identity of this animal.

UPDATE 28 May 2016: See this 27 May 2016 follow-up post (Most polar bear hybrids said to exist have not been confirmed by DNA testing) for details on unconfirmed sightings or reports of hybrids.
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Five facts that challenge polar bear hybridization nonsense

It was inevitable, I suppose, that the putative hybrid shot in Arviat, Nunavut last week (see my post here) would initiate the global warming blame game.

Hybrids again_Washington Post 23 May 2016_title screencap

Washington Post, 23 May 2016, Adam Popescu: “Love in the time of climate change: Grizzlies and polar bears are now mating

Here are the five points you need to know about polar bear hybridization, as there are several nonsense statements contained in this Washington Post article.

UPDATE 24 May 2016: References adding below regarding grizzly sightings south of Churchill on the west coast of Hudson Bay (H/T Doug Clark).

UPDATE 28 May 2016: See this 27 May 2016 follow-up post (Most polar bear hybrids said to exist have not been confirmed by DNA testing) for details on unconfirmed sightings or reports of hybrids.

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Another alleged grizzly-polar bear hybrid shot but it’s not a sign of climate change

CBC News this morning (“Grolar or pizzly? Experts say rare grizzly-polar bear hybrid shot in Nunavut: Expert says interbreeding may be happening more frequently due to climate change“) suggests that a putative grizzly x polar bear hybrid bear shot outside Arviat in Western Hudson Bay is a sign of climate change, based on an interview with a black bear expert from Minnesota.

Hybrid pb shot in Arviat_CBC 18 May 2016

This bogus claim has been busted so many times it’s a wonder it still arises – even polar bear specialist Ian Stirling has said flat out that such hybrids are not due to climate change. On top of that, some of the details regarding this putative hybrid make me want to wait for confirmation from DNA testing before adding it to the roster of known hybrids.
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More polar bear habitat in Hudson Bay region at mid-May than in 2006 & 2011

What a difference a bit of historical perspective can make to one’s attitude on the annual Arctic sea ice breakup.

masie_all_r10_v01_2016137_4km

The usual recent pattern (since 1979) has been for breakup to begin on the east side. However, this year and last (below), it has begun in the NW (as it did in 1990 and a few other years).

Not all of the open water is due to melt, of course. As I discussed last week in relation to the Southern Beaufort Sea, winds and prevailing currents at this time of year start to fracture the ice and move it around well before much significant melt has begun.

Compare 2016 (above) to 2006 (below), when there was 0.1 mkm2 less overall – with much less ice in Hudson Strait and in the east of Hudson Bay than this year:
masie_all_r10_v01_2006136_4km

Compare to 2011, when there was also 0.1 mkm2 less overall than this year:
masie_all_r10_v01_2011136_4km

It’s important to keep in mind that the intensive feeding season for polar bears is drawing to a close – within another two weeks, most young-of-the-year seals will be in the water feeding and inaccessible to bears.

The only seals on the ice during June and July are predator-savvy adults and subadults that have hauled out to moult and for these seals the rapidly disintegrating ice creates many escape routes. That means that as long as the ice breakup sequence allows polar bears to get their fill of young seals before the end of May, even during early breakup years most bears should be fat enough to survive the coming summer and winter fasts (see more here). So we should expect to see some bears coming ashore within the next two weeks.

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Silence of the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group on the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment

It’s been six months and still the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group has not updated its website with a link to the 2015 IUCN Red List assessment for polar bears, which was made public with some fanfare in November 2015. They are not the only group still ignoring the Red List decision but their silence is the most damning – the IUCN is the parent body of their organization.

On May 7th, I wrote to the IUCN Red List folks (redlist@iucn.org) about this situation (excerpt below) but as yet have received no reply.

PBSG website banner May 10 2016

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Beaufort Sea fractured ice due to strong Beaufort Gyre action – not early melt

The Canadian Ice Service has a cool NASA animated video showing the Beaufort Gyre in action – you can actually see the solid mass of ice crack and swirl west and north under the pressure of the massive corkscrew current – see it here (tips on getting yourself oriented in the video below the screencap):

Beaufort Gyre video screencap_21 April 2016_labelled

Note that the video is oriented with Banks Island on the bottom and the shore of Alaska along the left-hand side, as if the locator map provided was rotated as below:

Beaufort Gyre video screencap_locator map_rotated

The big ‘bite” of ice being torn out to the south of Banks Island is the Amundsen Gulf.

The caption for the NASA video says this (my bold):

“MODIS Terra imagery taken between April 4 and May 3, 2016 of the Beaufort Sea. The animation highlights the gradual ice breakup due to the Beaufort gyre.

So, early breakup here is due to Beaufort Gyre action – not early seasonal melt.
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