Call it the pizzly or grolar bear: a new type of bear has been spotted a few times in the Arctic region, no thanks to the unusual effects of climate change.
A bear shot in northern Canada – posted on the owner’s Facebook page – is raising curiosity as it is believed to be of a grizzly-polar bear hybrid, a seemingly inevitable consequence of the growing interactions between the two species.
According to hunter Didji Ishalook, he initially thought he imaged a small polar bear near Arviat on the Hudson Bay – only to find out later on that it was a "half-breed," as confirmed by a number of bear experts.
"It looks like a polar bear but it's got brown paws and big claws like a grizzly. And the shape of a grizzly head," he said in a report in The Guardian.
Sightings of this hybrid species in recent years coincide with the warming of the Arctic at twice the rate of the average worldwide. It appears that grizzly bears in Alaska and Canada are moving north as their original homes warm, bringing them close to polar bears living on the coastline.
Polar bears are confronted by the same warming trends, spending more time on land as Arctic ice decreases. They are losing body weight and declining in population in the process as they are unable to hunt their usual prey.
Bear biologist Chris Servheen of the University of Montana said there had been very rare sightings of this hybrid bear species in the past, partly due to the little interaction made between them and humans. But the ones that had been seen, he added, share similarities in looks with both parents.
"[They] are usually lighter in color," he told ABC News. "They often have dark, darker fur rings around their eyes. Their paws can often be dark too or at least around the toes."
The claws, he added, are typically longer than polar bears' because grizzlies have much longer ones. The fur is generally a bit darker than a polar bear's as well.
Servheen is among the scientists who today believe climate change has a hand over the increased contact between the two different species. At present, however, little is still known about their offspring's behavior, as both species try to avoid and stay away from humans.
"[I] suspect that's something that we won't know anything about for a long time," he said.
Temperatures continue to climb, with the world recently breaking monthly heat records for 12 consecutive months. Based on satellite data, the ring of ice surrounding the North Pole this past January was the smallest it had been in that month since measurements began.
Experts worry that Arctic summers could be iceless within this same century – and the long-term prognosis could favor the pizzly more than the polar bear, which relies on sea ice and could suffer with its disappearance.
The U.S. and Canada do not see eye to eye on polar bears' classification as a threatened species. It has been difficult obtaining the exact number of these bears in the 19 Arctic sub-populations, with some groups likely growing in the past decades.
A broad scientific consensus remains: the changing climate is challenging their existence, entailing the need for greater protections.