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Bear shot in N.W.T. was grizzly-polar hybrid

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

The unusual-looking bear caught the attention of biologists after David Kuptana, an Inuvialuit hunter, shot and killed it on April 8 on the sea ice just west of the Arctic community, formerly known as Holman.

The bear had thick white fur like a polar bear, but it also had a wide head, brown legs and brown paws like a grizzly.

Kuptana said he shot the bear from a distance after it scavenged through five unoccupied cabins near Ulukhaktok, then tried running toward the community.

Wildlife DNA analysis shows the bear was a second-generation hybrid, officials with the N.W.T. Environment and Natural Resources Department said in a news release Friday.

The bear was the result of a female grizzly-polar hybrid mating with a male grizzly bear, according to the department.

"This confirms the existence of at least one female polar-grizzly hybrid near Banks Island," the release said.

"This may be the first recorded second-generation polar-grizzly bear hybrid found in the wild."

Kuptana told CBC News he is currently selling the bear pelt to the highest bidder and has received calls from across Canada for the unique pelt.

"Right now, we're already at $15,000, and we're going to see how far we can go," Kuptana said Friday. "If we can do better, we'll be happy."

The 'grolar bear' was killed on April 8 on the sea ice near the N.W.T. hamlet of Ulukhaktok, which was known as Holman until 2006. The N.W.T.'s first confirmed "grolar bear" was shot by a U.S. hunter in Sachs Harbour, N.W.T., located on Banks Island, in April 2006. More DNA tests are planned to determine whether the bear shot this month was related to the one from 2006.

Hybrid bears will likely become more common in the North, as the direct consequence of climate change, predicts Brendan Kelly, a marine biologist with the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

In the absence of summer Arctic sea ice, polar bears are stranded on land and come into more contact with grizzly bears, he said.

"We're taking this continent-sized barrier to animal movement, and in a few generations, it's going to disappear, at least in summer months," Kelly said.

"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."

Kelly said he has seen reports of harp seals and hooded seals interbreeding, as well as beluga whales and narwhal. Interbreeding helps species adapt to major shifts in their environments, he said.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.