Friday, 3 August 2012

Hybrid bear sightings getting more common in Arctic - via Chad Arment

EDMONTON - When biologists Jodie Pongracz and Evan Richardson flew up to Viscount Melville Sound this spring to capture polar bears, they had expected it to be an adventure.

The bears they were looking for live in an Arctic region so remote and so far north that Inuit hunters only began harvesting them in the 1970s. The number of animals living there is also small compared to what is found in most other polar bear regions of the Arctic.

That’s why they, and Ross Klengenberg, their Inuit field assistant, did a double-take when they saw a grizzly bear in the company of what they thought was a polar bear on the sea ice, hundreds of kilometres north of where grizzlies are normally found on the mainland.

What surprised them even more is that the bear turned out to be a hybrid, a cross between a polar bear and a grizzly.

Although a handful of hybrids and grizzlies have been seen in this part of the world in recent years, Pongracz is still having a tough time fully understanding the significance of what she saw that day. So is scientist Andrew Derocher, her academic supervisor at the University of Alberta.

“We know that grizzlies are in the area, and that local Inuit had seen hybrids, and recently shot two,” says Derocher. “So perhaps it isn’t that surprising. Nonetheless, given the size of the area involved, and the small number of hybrids that exist, I’d say they were extremely fortunate to make such sightings. I’d do back-flips, assuming I could, to see what they saw.”

Until about 20 years ago, sightings of grizzlies in the High Arctic were relatively rare; a quirk of nature, many biologists thought, that may have simply occurred because the bear had strayed too far following mainland caribou that sometimes cross the sea ice to the Arctic islands.

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