UPDATE: DNA analysis has since confirmed bear was not, in fact, a polar-grizzly mix. It was a blond grizzly.
An odd-looking bear shot last week by a hunter in Nunavut has turned out to be a grizzly-polar bear hybrid — a rare find that a researcher says is becoming more common.
Hunter Didji Ishalook, 25, spotted the animal on top of a hill near his home community of Arviat, about 260 kilometres north of Churchill, Man. From a distance he thought it was either an Arctic fox or a small polar bear.
Up close it was shaped more like a grizzly, but its colour was like a polar bear.
"It turned out to be a grizzly half-breed," Ishalook said.
"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."
Not an albino grizzly bear
Dave Garshelis, a research scientist from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and one of the world's foremost bear experts, agrees with Ishalook. He believes the bear is a grizzly-polar bear hybrid, and not an albino grizzly bear.
"An albino bear would have a light-coloured or pink-coloured nose, and no pigmentation in the eyes and the claws," Garshelis said.
"This bear has a black nose, and normal dark-coloured eyes and claws. So, it's not an albino."
Grashelis said polar bears and grizzly bears have similar genetics and have a history of interbreeding. He believes that interbreeding is happening more frequently due to climate change.
"With climate change, grizzly bears are moving further north, so there is more overlap between grizzly bears and polar bears in terms of their range," Garshelis said.
"There are even American black bears that are moving further north. And a few black bears have been spotted outside of Arviat."
Grashelis said a hybrid bear is unofficially called a grolar bear if the sire is a grizzly bear and a pizzly bear if the sire is a polar bear. A third potential name is nanurlak — a word combining the Inuit-language words for polar bear and grizzly, nanuk and aklak.
Inuit traditionally hunt polar bears for their meat and fur. The polar bear hunt in western Hudson Bay is closely managed, with 24 tags issued each year.
As for Ishalook, he plans to keep the hide of the bear and display it in his home.
"I am going to send it out to taxidermist and make it into a rug or a wall-mount."
Hunters in northern Canada have reported at least three of the hybrid bears since 2006.