A picture of a polar bear standing on a small round piece of ice surrounded by water.
We’ve heard it and we’ve seen it, although apparently we’re becoming immune to genuine concerns regarding climate change, because our actions as a whole don’t seem to be changing at any rapid pace. But I digress. The real story here is how the polar bears are responding.
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The Arctic ice serves as a hunting ground for polar bears, and as this ice continues to thaw as a result of global warming, polar bears are being forced to spend increased periods of time onshore. The result has been a hybridisation of two species, the polar bear and the grizzly bear.
This sounds kind of cute, and the names given to this newfound hybrid animal, “grolar bear” or “pizzly”, do sound playful, but as research biologist Brendan Kelly from the U.S. National Marine Mammal Laboratory has pointed out, hybridisation can be “the final straw in the loss of species”.
For species with healthy population numbers, interbreeding presents no real threat of extinction, but endangered species suffer potentially severe consequences when interbreeding occurs as a result of rapid alterations of the natural environment—and in most cases, it is humans causing these rapid alterations. Kelly and the team identified a list of the 22 arctic marine mammal species most likely to interbreed, and unfortunately, 14 of these are already listed as endangered.
So yes, I understand that the image of a polar bear on melting ice isn’t soliciting the same emotional response as it once was—so instead, before you flick on your heater, consider the threatened polar bear whose future may consist of mating with its cousin and please, just put on a jumper or two instead.