Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut May 24, 2016 - 10:00 am

Nunavut biologist sends possible “grolar” bear DNA for analysis

Unusual bear killed in Arviat could just be a blonde grizzly bear

THOMAS ROHNER
Didji Ishalook posted this photo and other photos of his latest catch on his Facebook page May 15.
Didji Ishalook posted this photo and other photos of his latest catch on his Facebook page May 15.

Is it a grizzly, pizzly or grolar bear? Why not a pozzly?

Nunavut residents and people from around the world have invented new tongue-twisters this week ever since an Arviat man posted pictures on Facebook of his most recent hunt.

“Female grizzly/polar bear. Got my first bear woohoo!!” Didji Ishalook posted on social media May 15.

But while the bear looks to be a hybrid of a grizzly and polar bear, Nunavut’s carnivore biologist said May 19 that it’s up to DNA tests to confirm or deny that.

“In grizzly bears, you can get fur colour ranging from brown to blond to nearly black,” said Malik Awan from Igloolik.

The Government of Nunavut sent samples May 18 to a lab in British Columbia, Awan said.

“We’re trying to process it quickly so we can share that information with the public,” he said.

Nunavut hunters have seen an increase in grizzly bears since at least the 1990s, particularly in the coastal mainland, including areas around Arviat, the biologist said.

“We have reports from hunters on occasion that grizzly bears venture on to sea ice in the spring to scavenge from polar bear kills or hunt newborn seals,” Awan said. 

And with polar and grizzly bear habitat zones overlapping more frequently, the likelihood of the two bears mating increases, he added.

But whether climate change is causing that overlap is difficult to say.

“We can’t say specifically, ‘this is because of climate change.’ There’s many possible reasons. For example, there’s a lot going on in grizzly habitat in the South like habitat change, loss and fragmentation,” said Awan.

Government scientists have not had many chances to study the bear, Awan said, because so far, only hunters have harvested the hybrid bears.

For example, Awan said it’s still unclear whether the hybrid bears can mate and, if so, what species they can mate with.

“Considering the other management projects we have for different species, I think hybrid interbreeding is a low priority for research,” he said.

And scientists haven’t come up with a name for the hybrid species yet either, Awan said.

So for now, scientists are taking the lead from media reports and calling hybrid bears with a polar bear father a “pizzly” and one with a grizzly bear father a “grolar.”

Awan didn’t mention the possibility of calling the hybrid a “pozzly.”

And how do the hybrid bears taste in comparison to polar bears?

“You’ll have to call someone up in Arviat and ask,” Awan laughed.

Awan couldn’t provide an estimate of when the DNA results might arrive back but said the samples are already on their way to the B.C. lab.

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