Grizzly bears moving into polar bear country
We've gone through an interview with Lukie Airut, an Igloolik-based carver and hunter, and he has great stories to share. In particular, he told us that he had recently seen a grizzly bear near town, which is something that locals say is very rare, despite scientific studies showing they may extend into the area. Lukie believes that climate change is causing grizzly bears to move further north.
Lukie's story makes me think about the first polar-grizzly hybrid discovered in the wild in 2006. This animal was shot by a conservation hunter in Banks Island, thinking it was a polar bear, only to find out it was a very rare hybrid, which sparked international news about climate change and its impacts on species migration.
Upon hearing the news, some scientists argued that grizzly bears may now be moving into a new range and breeding season that overlaps with polar bears, caused by global warming. If true, interspecific competition for food and space might occur between grizzly and polar bears, which could harm one or both of the species. Given that the spotting of this one "grolar" or "pizzly" bear is anecdotal, most scientists believe that more research is needed, and that the rapid and widespread loss of sea ice is much better evidence of a warming Arctic.
However, our video with Lukie Airut seems to add evidence to the notion that grizzly bears are moving further north, into an area that traditionally has only been polar bear country. This certainly shows that Inuit are at the forefront of science. Their observations about species migration, such as grizzlies in polar bear territory, is of widespread interest to the research community, and may help to shed some light on climate change impacts that society is just beginning to understand.