Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Story of a Grizzly - Polar Bear Hybrid

The current issue of Nature celebrates Linnaeus’ 300th birthday with a series of editorials, essays and features on the continuing work of taxonomists. One of the more provocative articles discusses the definition of species, including the status of the beloved polar bear,Ursus maritimus.

Polar bears are more closely related to some brown bears (Ursus arctos) then some brown bears are to each other. While the interrelationships of these species (and subspecies) is a surprise, it has long been known that the animals are closely related and has been evidenced (rarely) by the hybridization of the polar bear and the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis).

This hybrid, though extremely rare, has occurred in captivity and has long been storied in arctic legends. In 1864 biologist, Clinton Hart Merriam, described an animal killed at Rendezvous Lake, Northwest Territories, Canada as "buffy whitish with a golden brown muzzle". A century later, Clara Helgason remembers a bear shot by hunters on Kodiak Island during her childhood in 1943 as "a large, off-white bear with hair all over his paws".

The most recent sighting of the rare hybrid was made, unfortunately, after its death. On April 16, 2006, Jim Martell, a sport hunter from the United States, shot a grizzly–polar bear hybrid near on Banks Island, Northwest Territories, Canada. Martell had paid $50,000, for an official license and a guide to hunt polar bears in Canada’s arctic.


Martell shot what appeared, at a distance, to be a polar bear but officials noticed that beyond the thick, creamy white fur, typical of polar bears, the animal also had long claws; a humped shoulder, scoop-shaped snout and brown patches around its eyes. The hybrid was confirmed by a DNA test.

The government returned the carcass to Martell. Though the hybrid species has no conservational value (like white tigers), it is an amazing phenomenon and I am sad the hunter kept his prize. I think he should have been compensated and asked to donate the pelt to a museum where others could learn about the phenomenon.

Lastly, I will note that the US government is considering giving polar bears a ‘threatened’ status. The Canadian government has a different perspective as anecdotal evidence from aboriginals and official wildlife surveys indicate the polar bear population in Canada actually appears to be growing. This of course is a notion that doesn’t appeal fit well with proponents of climate change, but that is a debate for another posting.

Regardless of controversy surrounding these amazing animals I hate that the government advocates rich people throwing out $50,000 for the opportunity to shoot one of these creatures. It is one more example of how Canada continues to sell its natural resources and decimate its environment for a few greenbacks.

Marris, E. 2007. Linnaeus at 300: The species and the specious. Nature 446, 250-253.

Roach, J. May 16, 2006. Grizzly-polar bear hybrid found -- but what does it mean? National Geographic News.

21 comments:

Bargeview said...

Here in Canada, Stephen Harper is well known as a climate change denier. In 2002, he infamously called the Kyoto accord a "socialist scheme" designed to suck money out of rich countries...We're gearing up now for the biggest struggle our party has faced since you entrusted me with the leadership...I'm talking about the 'battle of Kyoto' — our campaign to block the job-killing, economy-destroying Kyoto accord."

Beyond that, I'm sure he would support the privatization of wildlife management.

Greg Laden said...

The government returned the carcass to Martell. Though the hybrid species has no conservational value (like white tigers), it is an amazing phenomenon and I am sad the hunter kept his prize. I think he should have been compensated and asked to donate the pelt to a museum where others could learn about the phenomenon.

If this very rich person who paid all this money was just a regular guy who had a license to kill one species and instead killed another, he'd simply be fined and the kill confiscated. This would likely apply to hybrids as well.

I'm not saying that I think that would be fair, nor am I specifically suggesting it. But I am saying that it smells like a case of differential treatment.

I'm glad I ran into this post. I had just been wondering if there were such hybrids.

Pam said...

Its disgusting,hunting these rare animals they are dying out due to the climite its hard enough for these wonderfull animals someone should pay money to shoot Mr Martell and the Canadian goverment, they should be ashamed as well as the clubbing of seals,Canada you are one shameless country,no compassion, just brash and sick.

Anonymous said...

canadas govt sucks bigtime they make believe there civilized the they allow the clubbing of baby seals wat a bunch of godless hypocrites..canada is as bad as japan and russia and china

Anonymous said...

Im sorry but the American Govt isnt anything special either, we kill off Wolf, Cougar and other predatory animals to make way for stupid sheep, goats and cattle and then get pissed when they kill our livestock, the death of 700 out of 800 wolves is no joke, im not defending other countries but look at our own before you point the finger at someone else.

Anonymous said...

this guy is a regular average guy who saved up his money to go hunting.. there is no way he knew from a distance that this was not a reg. polar bear. who knew it was a hybrid.. noone knew until DNA testing was done. he did not do anything wrong and he is not getting any special treatment he accidently shot a hybrid so what it happens. if you were out there a saw the polar bear wouldnt u have shot at it. YES you would of. it looks just like a reg polar bear inless you look closely at the eyes paws and snout. i applaud the goverment officals for doing right by him and allowing him to keep this once in a life time pelt. he is a 65 yr old man. who knows how much longer he will be around. like i said before. just leave the man alone.

Anonymous said...

Kill the man, sell his pelt on ebay. I am sicken that anyone could kill a bear. Men !!!

Jerry said...

Beyond me what someone gets out of killing something like that. With his modern, very accurate rifle, does it make him feel more like a man? Can't understand what is missing in this individual's life so as to try and fill some void in his life by taking a life. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting story. I have a question though. The geneticists said after study of it's dna, it's mother was a polar bear. If this is true it would seem strange to me that the bear would not have the eating habits of a polar bear, since they learn hunting and eating habits from their mmother. The documentary I watched on National Geograghic showed that the bear had a wide range of foods in it's stomach, including many small animals such as ground squirrels, which polar bears do not eat. It seems to me that the bears mother must have been a grizzly since it seemed to have the eating habits of a grizzly. Also, polar bear flesh according ro the show has a strong smell of seal and fish, which this bear did not.

Anonymous said...

First off I'm the "MAN's" grandson, and think of what your saying " kill the man he shot a bear" if that's what you think the you are the bad person here , he was born poor an acoholic father lived under a bridge once , but that fought him to be a good hard working man who worked hard to build our company and become a sucsesful man. Hunting is his life I can't imagin him not hunting , so if you want to take away his well deserved prize than take a look in the mirorr and then tell me who the bad person is...

M.Martell

Anonymous said...

His father was an acoholic not him

M.Martell

Anonymous said...

I just saw the National Geographic show regarding this event. "Sport Hunters" are neither "hunters", or "sportsmen". This old guy was killing for his own ego, and for no good reason. NO PERMIT should be issued for the senseless slaughter of polar bears, or for any other wild animal. The inuit guide is no better than a prostitute, as he does the wrong thing by selling his legal "right" to hunt, which was based on the preservation of the Inuit way of life, not for the jollies of some super rich jerk to shoot with his high tech rifle AFTER the guide does all the hunting. I hope God is a polar bear and Martell gets it in the end. He's a coward and a horrible person. He also supported Senator Craig (you know, the bathroom hunter). That should also tell you something about this guy. Too bad Martell didn't croak out on the ice.

Anonymous said...

Poor hunters. Stay away from these wonderful animals. Paying 50'000 dollars to kill a bear...how sad. You better support poor people with this money.
PS: How heroic it must be to kill with a scope on an rifle...WOW a real hero. Hell is waiting for you. Thanks to God he is an 65 years old dinosaur.

Angela said...

I would like to ask the hunter a question?
When you saw this bear in your site, did it not look a little diffrent? And if you knew it was the last of it's kind would you still have killed it?
I watched with my family the National Geographics documentary about the Polar Bear Grizzly hybrid, we would all like to think there are more Polar Bear hybrids, I really hope there are. Or do we just let people continue to hunt Polar Bears for sport until there are no more. The Polar Bears habitat is already shrinking at an alarming rate.
So in 10 to 20 years from now our childrens, children will have to go to a museum to see stuffed animals that used to rome free because we allowed them all to be hunted into extinction.
I come from Hawaii, there is a plant that only grows on the cliffs.That have to be hand pollinated by humans because of the insect or bird that used to pollinate the plants is now extinct.
If you could only understand how the chain of life affects us all if we allow the Polar Bears to be hunted, how does that affect the seal population?
Yes we all have choices. What choice did the bear have.

Anonymous said...

People see what they want to see. "Man Kills very rare Bear"
He's a devil, all around bad person. Well the entire story is much clearer. While yes it's a rare individual bear in the wild, they have been breed as such in zoo's. It can not even be called a new species of bear as there would have to be a breeding population of other polar/ grizzly bear mixes to continue on the line. If it breed back to a polar bear it's offspring would only be 25% grizzly.

He was on a legal guided hunt. Lets say that again, he was on a LEGAL GUIDED hunt. With an Inuit as a guide and was told to shoot the bear as it was a legal hunt. Hunting is one of human's basic instincts. Population control is gained by legal hunts, as well as a better environment for the hunted animals. Everyone that has bad feeling's for the hunter better be vegetarians. It's more inhumane to raise a cow just to eat. At least the wild animal had a chance to live a free life. Does the cow?

Major props goes out to Mr. Martell for not only making a good hunt, but also being one of if not the last hunter able to bring back a polar bear trophy into the states.

Anonymous said...

I think hunting is disgusting and people like Jim Martel are allowed to shoot any animal. If you are such a BIG hunter then go into an arena and fight the animal, hand to hand, not like a pussy with a rifle

Liz said...

How disgusting of him. I would be ashamed to be related to him. I am at a loss to understand what he could possibly gain from killing such an amazing creature. The only conclusion to me is that he is a sick person. I’d like to think if someone is doing so well for themselves after all their hard work that they would consider donating some to charities etc, not booking a man holiday to shoot a bear. Where’s the sport in that? There are surely other far more challenging real sports he could try rather than shoot a bear which really doesn't stand a chance hey. I wonder has he tried running, a very good stress buster and it might relieve his aggression. A disgusting excuse for a man! Shame on him!

Liz - UK

skypilot2 said...

Mr. Martell, you are NOT a hunter, the correct term for scum like you is "ambusher" ,to pay $50,000.00 to shoot an unaware animal from 250 yards with a high power rifle is not hunting! You are only buying a ticket to slaughter an animal that you only want to hang on your wall, or have it stuffed so you can brag that YOU killed a polar bear or whatever. Well you did kill a bear but you're sure as hell not a hunter.You're an AMBUSHER! MARTELL! The WORST type of killer.
Skypilot2

Anonymous said...

This man may well have lived under a bridge and may not have had a wounderful child hood. There are many people out in the world that have had to work hard to overcome their less than ideal cicumstances, but does that give them the right to kill animals with their high powered rifles. I ask how can anyone take comfort in the killing of any type of animals, four legged or not.

Anonymous said...

I feel I should point out a couple things. The Canadian goverment only gives out like 12 (I may be off by one or two) permits a year. Also, the hunt wasn't all simple and easy. The hunter and his guides were out camping on the ice for quite some time searching for/following the bear, and remember this man isn't that young.
And you can't really blame the hunter for not being able to tell what he shot wasn't quite right, he was told when and what to shoot by his guide, who is trained and have been doing these hunts for a long time.Plus from a distance, and with the bear covered in snow they couldn't tell it was not quite right untill after they were right next to it cleaning it off, and thats not to smart to do to a live bear.
Another thing, this wasn't a case of special treatment with the man not getting in trouble, he bought a permit to shoot a polar bear, which he did. Granted, it wasn't a pure polar bear, but it was still a polar bear, not some other species. He was in a great deal of trouble before the tests came out a postive for the hybrid anyways.

Anonymous said...

Update: In April 2010, David Kuptana, an Inuvialuit hunter on Victoria Island shot a hybrid. He as well, thought it was a polar bear and upon inspection discovered its true nature. It may actually be a SECOND GENERATION hybrid.