A Bad Month for Polar Bears Turns Grizzly

May 28, 2010· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.
Photo: Russell Cheyne/Reuters

Ursus maritimus—otherwise known as the polar bear—has had one bear of a month. First, a new study predicted a rapid decline in the Canadian polar bear population. As soon as next year. And by as much as 30 percent.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, a hunter shot and killed a hybrid grizzly-polar bear—dubbed the "grolar bear"—an emerging type of bear mutt that scientists say is proof that climate change-induced Arctic ice melting is forcing the furry white giants to interbreed.

The mathematical model predicting population decline was released this week by co-author Dr. Andrew Derocher, a University of Alberta professor and leading expert in the field, and indicates that due to a decrease in three factors—available sea ice, pre-hibernation body fat, and mating opportunities—the next 12 months could be dire for Western Hudson Bay’s 900 polar bears.

“I thought this was something for the generation coming after me,” Derocher told the Toronto Star. “Now I’m very certain we’re going to see very serious changes in the near future.”

The report comes two years after Canada’s polar bear population reached its highest point in 50 years.

And now, for the "grolar bear."

Shot and killed earlier this month in the Northwest Territories, the hybrid specimen “had thick white fur like a polar bear, but also a wide head, brown legs, and brown paws like a grizzly,” according to CBC News. It was the result of a female grizzly-polar hybrid mating with a male grizzly bear, according to the Natural Resources Department.

But that’s the "what" of the problem. It's the "why" that’s most troubling.

Because the Arctic ice shelf, where polar bears hang out and snag a tan during the warm summer months, is melting, the bears become landlocked in grizzly territory. So, the two bears meet, they canoodle, and well, use your imagination.

Brendan Kelly, a marine biologist with the International Artic Research Center of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, foresees the interbreeding as a trend not limited to bears.

“That’s going to give a lot of organisms, a lot of marine mammals in particular, who’ve been separated for at least 10,000 years the opportunity to interbreed again, and we’re predicting we’re going to see a lot more of that.”