Grolar bear: A hybrid animal that’s part grizzly bear (Ursus arctus) and part polar bear (Ursus maritimus). The word is a blend of grizzly and polar.
Eva Holland wrote about grolar bears last week in the online magazine Pacific Standard:
I thought it was a joke when I first heard about it two or three years ago: a bear that was part-grizzly, part-polar bear, roaming the land where tundra meets sea ice? People called it the grolar bear, I was told, or sometimes the pizzly bear.
Pizzly bear? I thought at the time. Come on.
But the hybrid is very real. (Although, clearly, “grolar bear” is the superior choice of name.) And if some scientists’ predictions are correct, it could be just one of a whole host of potential hybrid mammal species to emerge from the Arctic as it continues to warm.
Polar and grizzly bears have long been bred in captivity, but the first wild hybrid wasn’t seen until 2006, when hunter shot “an odd looking bear—white with brown patches” in the Canadian Arctic. Since then, at least three other sightings (two unconfirmed) have been reported. Unlike some interspecies hybrids, these animals are fertile.
Brendan Kelly, the chief scientist and director of conservation research at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, spent 35 years in Alaska studying Alaskan marine mammals; in an interview with Holland, he theorized that the rapid disappearance of Arctic sea ice is leading to a dramatic rise in hybridization. There’s evidence, he said, that beluga whales and narwhals are mating in the eastern Arctic. The hybridization “is cause for concern,” writes Holland:
With every mating season that rolls around, each remaining polar bear will be statistically more likely to encounter and mate with a grizzly rather than a fellow polar bear. That will produce more hybrids, which will also be more likely to mate with a grizzly bear or a fellow hybrid. And so on.
“It can be the final nail in the coffin,” Kelly says.
In addition to grolar bear and pizzly bear, the Arctic hybrid has also been dubbed nanulak, a blend of the Inuit names for polar bear (nanuk) and grizzly bear (aklak).