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‘Climate change’ not the cause: DNA results prove so-called polar bear hybrid was a ‘blonde grizzly’ – Activists & media, ‘now have egg on their faces’

All the hubris last month about polar bear x grizzly hybrids, based on an unusual-looking bear killed near Arviat, has turned out to be wishful thinking by those who’d like to blame everything to do with polar bears on climate change. An awful lot of “experts” now have egg on their faces. That “hybrid” was just a blonde grizzly, as I warned it might.

grizzly-polar-bear-hybrid_Arviat 2016 Didji Ishalook

According to one report, Nunavut wildlife manager Mathieu Dumond said:

“Some otherwise pretty renown bear biologists jumped on the hybrid bear story without even knowing what they were talking about,” Dumond said.

“I think it was something blown out of proportion, with the wrong information to start.”

Gee, ya think? CBC ran a story too. But the CBC don’t really admit (see below) that they were the first out of the gate on this story and started the media madness. It was the CBC that relied on the opinion of a black bear expert from Minnesota (who likely only saw a picture) – but since he was willing to say it was a hybrid and that its presence was a sign of climate change, they went with it.  See “Grolar or pizzly? Experts say rare grizzly-polar bear hybrid shot in Nunavut: Expert says interbreeding may be happening more frequently due to climate change” (CBC 18 May 2016).

For background, see these recent posts on this putative hybrid and the issues on hybridization it spawned:
Another alleged grizzly-polar bear hybrid shot but it’s not a sign of climate change

Polar bear hybrid update: samples sent for DNA testing to rule out blonde grizzly

Five facts that challenge polar bear hybridization nonsense

Most polar bear hybrids said to exist have not been confirmed by DNA testing

Blonde grizzlies, like the one pictured below (which I posted the day the story broke), are actually a proven sign of natural variation within species – a critical lesson in biology that should be the take-home message here.

“Paging Professor Derocher”: PBSG biologist and University of Alberta professor Andrew Derocher gave so many interviews to the media on this issue I lost count – he fed the media frenzy almost single-handedly. Well, except for granddaddy of polar bear experts Ian Stirling, who said (via the Toronto Star):

“I think it’s 99 per cent sure that it’s going to turn out to be a hybrid,” said Ian Stirling, an emeritus research scientist with Environment Canada and adjunct professor at the University of Alberta.”


Grizzly light_NPS photo

Quotes from today’s story below.

Exotic bear harvested in Nunavut was a blonde grizzly” (Nunatsiaq Online, 21 June 2016) reported this afternoon [my bold]:

Media reports, quoting experts from the US or southern Canada instead of from Nunavut, then surfaced full of assumptions, a regional wildlife manager with the Government of Nunavut told Nunatsiaq News June 21.

“Everyone wanted to jump on the hybrid bear train,” said Mathieu Dumond, from Kugluktuk.

In reality, grizzly bears with blonde fur are “not uncommon,” and are often seen, especially in western Nunavut, Dumond said.

“It seems to be more frequent in spring or early summer, when the bears come out from hibernating. Then they shed and have a little more saturated colour in their fur.”

“The harvested bear was not a hybrid,” the government confirmed June 21, perhaps to the disappointment of many readers and researchers alike.

“Some otherwise pretty renown bear biologists jumped on the hybrid bear story without even knowing what they were talking about,” Dumond said.

“I think it was something blown out of proportion, with the wrong information to start.”

CBC News report said this:

But Nunavut’s Department of Environment (DOE) has confirmed that the “unusual” bear is not a hybrid.

“DOE submitted a tissue sample to a genetics lab for DNA analysis in order to verify the ancestry of the harvested bear,” Carrie Harbidge, an environmental education specialist, told CBC News.

“The DNA lab concludes that the animal was a blond grizzly bear, and it does not have a polar bear parent. Therefore, the harvested bear was not a hybrid.”

“From people on the ground, in the field, it was somewhat obvious that the results would come [out] that way,” says Mathieu Dumond, a wildlife manager for Nunavut’s environment department. “I think the excitement of a few hybrids found in the western part of Nunavut and in N.W.T … got people carried away a little bit.”

Ishalook had consulted with elders in Arviat before concluding the bear he’d shot was a mix. At the time, CBC News also spoke with a Minnesota-based leading bear expert, who concurred.

Dumond says that’s why it was important to verify the assessment with genetic testing, especially since there have been two or three confirmed cases of grizzly-polar bear mixes.

“It’s so rare that unfortunately I think nobody has a lot of experience in identifying a hybrid from the first sight.”

Blond grizzlies are far less rare, he adds: “While it’s not maybe the most common colour for the fur … it’s not something extraordinary. Every year we see some that are blond.”