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.

Two sighted by Derocher’s students, 2012

From an e360 Yale report  from the end of July 2012, which included the photo above and below, courtesy Jodie Pongracz, Gov’t NWT (my bold):

Derocher said the bear sightings made by his two protégés this spring [April/May 2012] were an important contribution to understanding the increasingly frequent interactions between polar and grizzly bears.”

The sightings this spring represent the fourth and fifth confirmed hybrid bear sightings in recent years. Scientists say that it is evident from reports from Inuit hunters that many other animals are adapting their lifestyles to changes in climate, just as grizzlies did when they split from polar bears four to five million years ago.

When University of Alberta biologists Jodie Pongracz and Evan Richardson flew up to Viscount Melville Sound in the High Arctic of Canada this spring to capture and satellite-collar polar bears, they were astonished to see a grizzly bear travellng with what they initially thought was a polar bear hundreds of miles north of where brown bears are normally found. That sighting occurred on April 23 in Wynniatt Bay at 73 degrees North latitude. Upon closer examination, the polar bear turned out to be a hybrid cross between a polar bear and grizzly. [SJC: see photo below]

Also on April 25, the scientists saw what they thought was another grizzly until photographic analysis suggested that it was a hybrid bear.” [SJC: see photo above]

Hybrid sightings Viscount Melvilled spring 2012 Jodie Pongracz_GNWT

Three total: two hybrid cubs & their mother shot by a hunter, 2012

Two hybrid cubs spotted in 2012 near the west coast of Victoria Island, in the Central Canadian Islands – no photos available, just a description (CBC, 26 April 2012):

“The ‘grolar’ bear – a mix between a grizzly and a polar bear – has been spotted once again near Ulukhaktok, N.W.T. [SJC: see map below]

The sightings are becoming more common – the last one was shot near the community in 2010, and another was found in 2006. [SJC: these two have been confirmed by DNA]

Robert Kuptana, who lives in the Arctic hamlet of about 400 people, said a family of three bears was recently hunted by someone in the community.

“One is pure white, which is the mother, and there’s one with fairly dark fur on it and another one, too, is fairly white but you look at the legs and they’re brown, so it’s a very different being,” said Kuptana.”

An article that appeared in the Toronto Star the next day quoted the hunter as saying all three bears were hybrids, including the mother.

Ulukhaktok google maps

One bear shot near Ulukhaktok, 2009 or so

Reported in the Toronto Star, 27 April 2012

“Hunters from the village of Ulukhaktok, N.W.T. knew there was something different about the polar bear they were stalking but couldn’t put their finger on it.

It was far more aggressive than anything they were used to. They even called off the dog for fear the large white mammal would kill it.

On closer inspection after it was shot and killed, it turned out not to be an ordinary polar bear but one that was a cross between a polar bear and a grizzly, unofficial known as “grolar bear” and “pizzly.”

The first hybrid we had ever seen around here a few years ago was pretty nasty. They (hunters) usually stalk the polar bear using a dog but this bear was so aggressive they couldn’t use a dog on them. It was too dangerous,” Robert Kuptana, who lives in the western Arctic hamlet of about 400 people on Victoria Island, told the Toronto StarFriday.”

PLUS: One sighted and photographed in Alaska, 2007

A translated article in Spiegel International in the fall of 2012 included the photo below of another animal who’s hybrid identity has not been confirmed. It was also reported by The Telegraph in 2010 (here), as one seen in the Alaska at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that was pictured by Brendan Kelly and colleagues in a 2010 Nature Commentary (with no information on where or when it was sighted):

Hybrid sightings Canada Spiegel_2012 lead photo

A June 2014 article in The Nautilus had the details on that bear (Tim McDonnell):

In 2007, photographer Steven Kazlowski captured what may be a “grolar bear,” a hybrid of a polar bear and grizzly bear, on Bernard Sandspit, a barrier island, along the Arctic coast of Alaska. “I showed the photos to many local Inupiaq residents, who were all quite sure that it was a hybrid of a polar and grizzly bear,” Kazlowski said. “It was amazing to see something you only hear folklore legends about in the flesh and blood.” DNA tests have confirmed the existence of hybrid bears in the area.” [SJC: but not this particular bear]

References

Kelly, B., Whiteley, A., and Tallmon, D. 2010. Comment: The Arctic melting pot. Nature 468:891. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v468/n7326/abs/468891a.html [the comments below this short article, visible even without a subscription, are worth reading]

Comments are closed.