The unbearable lightness of polar bear 'climate science'

From the “Emily Litella” department (never mind) and Zoologist Dr. Susan Crockford, comes yet another hilarious take-down of attempts to link polar bears and climate change last month. Turns out it’s just a blonde. Paging Andrew Derocher! Cleanup on aisle 5!

Dr. Crockford writes:

All the hubris last month about polar bear x grizzly hybrids, based on an unusual-looking bear killed near Arviat, has turned out to be wishful thinking by those who’d like to blame everything to do with polar bears on climate change. An awful lot of “experts” now have egg on their faces. That “hybrid” was just a blonde grizzly, as I warned it might.


According to one report, Nunavut wildlife manager Mathieu Dumond said:

“Some otherwise pretty renown[ed] bear biologists jumped on the hybrid bear story without even knowing what they were talking about,” Dumond said.

“I think it was something blown out of proportion, with the wrong information to start.”

Gee, ya think? CBC ran a story too. But the CBC don’t really admit (see below) that they were the first out of the gate on this story and started the media madness. It was the CBC that relied on the opinion of a black bear expert from Minnesota (who likely only saw a picture) – but since he was willing to say it was a hybrid and that its presence was a sign of climate change, they went with it.  See “Grolar or pizzly? Experts say rare grizzly-polar bear hybrid shot in Nunavut: Expert says interbreeding may be happening more frequently due to climate change” (CBC 18 May 2016).

For background, see these recent posts on this putative hybrid and the issues on hybridization it spawned:

Another alleged grizzly-polar bear hybrid shot but it’s not a sign of climate change

Polar bear hybrid update: samples sent for DNA testing to rule out blonde grizzly

Five facts that challenge polar bear hybridization nonsense

Most polar bear hybrids said to exist have not been confirmed by DNA testing

Blonde grizzlies, like the one pictured below (which I posted the day the story broke), are actually a proven sign of natural variation within species – a critical lesson in biology that should be the take-home message here.

Grizzly light_NPS photo

“Paging Professor Derocher”: PBSG biologist and University of Alberta professor Andrew Derocher gave so many interviews to the media on this issue I lost count – he fed the media frenzy almost single-handedly. Well, except for granddaddy of polar bear experts Ian Stirling, who said (via the Toronto Star):

“I think it’s 99 per cent sure that it’s going to turn out to be a hybrid,” said Ian Stirling, an emeritus research scientist with Environment Canada and adjunct professor at the University of Alberta.”

Quotes from today’s story below.

Exotic bear harvested in Nunavut was a blonde grizzly” (Nunatsiaq Online, 21 June 2016) reported this afternoon [my bold]:

Media reports, quoting experts from the US or southern Canada instead of from Nunavut, then surfaced full of assumptions, a regional wildlife manager with the Government of Nunavut told Nunatsiaq News June 21.

“Everyone wanted to jump on the hybrid bear train,” said Mathieu Dumond, from Kugluktuk.

In reality, grizzly bears with blonde fur are “not uncommon,” and are often seen, especially in western Nunavut, Dumond said.

“It seems to be more frequent in spring or early summer, when the bears come out from hibernating. Then they shed and have a little more saturated colour in their fur.”

“The harvested bear was not a hybrid,” the government confirmed June 21, perhaps to the disappointment of many readers and researchers alike.

“Some otherwise pretty renown bear biologists jumped on the hybrid bear story without even knowing what they were talking about,” Dumond said.

“I think it was something blown out of proportion, with the wrong information to start.”

Now, a CBC News report said this:

But Nunavut’s Department of Environment (DOE) has confirmed that the “unusual” bear is not a hybrid.

“DOE submitted a tissue sample to a genetics lab for DNA analysis in order to verify the ancestry of the harvested bear,” Carrie Harbidge, an environmental education specialist, told CBC News.

“The DNA lab concludes that the animal was a blond grizzly bear, and it does not have a polar bear parent. Therefore, the harvested bear was not a hybrid.”

“From people on the ground, in the field, it was somewhat obvious that the results would come [out] that way,” says Mathieu Dumond, a wildlife manager for Nunavut’s environment department. “I think the excitement of a few hybrids found in the western part of Nunavut and in N.W.T … got people carried away a little bit.”

Ishalook had consulted with elders in Arviat before concluding the bear he’d shot was a mix. At the time, CBC News also spoke with a Minnesota-based leading bear expert, who concurred.

Dumond says that’s why it was important to verify the assessment with genetic testing, especially since there have been two or three confirmed cases of grizzly-polar bear mixes.

“It’s so rare that unfortunately I think nobody has a lot of experience in identifying a hybrid from the first sight.”

Blond grizzlies are far less rare, he adds: “While it’s not maybe the most common colour for the fur … it’s not something extraordinary. Every year we see some that are blond.”

Full story here, be sure to bookmark her blog:

94 thoughts on “The unbearable lightness of polar bear 'climate science'

  1. “I think it’s 99 per cent sure that it’s going to turn out to be a hybrid,” said Ian Stirling,
    That opinion would qualify as an objective prior in Bayesian analysis.

    • Reminds me of the joke “A Bayesian is one who, vaguely expecting a horse, and catching a glimpse of a donkey, believes he has seen a mule.”
      Of course, in our polar bear case, a properly built Bayesian network would include a node for DNA analysis with a conditional probability of close to 1 (perhaps 0.999 allowing for error in the testing) that would over power all priors.

    • Doesn’t “I think” establish this as a subjective prior? Wouldn’t an objective prior be something like “99% of all such sightings have in the past turned out to be blonde grizzly bears”?

    • Unfortunately fails Max Ent, paints the naive into a corner from the get-go. Max Ent means admit ones stupidity is a better beginning than 99% error.

  2. As grizzly bears and polar bears are fully interfertile, arguably they are at most incipient species, and probably actually conspecific. I do remember the great foofraw over spotted v. barred owls, another probable case of confusing a color pattern/phase with a different species.

    • Step right up! See the Great Foofraw transmute species before your very eyes! The wonder of the age! Professors made into monkeys! Step right up!

      • John,
        Tell me about the monkeys made into perfessers, please.
        I am sue the Great Foofraw can do [ and has done] that.
        Any outside climate ‘science’ – climatology the religion?
        Or is that beyond the illimitable powers of the Great foofaraw?
        Auto – seeking the knowledge.

  3. Well done Dr. Susan Crockford.
    Does there come a time when the Green mafia will start to question their own morality? They lied, manipulated, data fudged, cheated and even threatened any body or corporation with criminal prosecution. This Blond grizzly article is just the tip of the iceberg, in their desperate attempt to to keep the money flowing and promote a green superstate. Orwell would have been horrified at attempts for worldwide control over every aspect of our lives, via the super corrupt UN body, and the Obama’s of the world.

    • Any bets on how many of the mainstream media outlets will give this news as much print space as they gave the ‘climate change causes hybridization’ story?
      P.S. Note that all ebook versions of my novel are on sale until July 15th for 99 cents. Links at my blog. Load up…

      • As an indication of the ethics of the media outlets, today on Yahoo News they had an old story about a tranquilized brown bear that went into the water and was about to drown before a game biologist went into the water to save it. The click bait was a picture of a polar bear and a headline about a drowning bear.

    • . . . and furthermore, why are “endangered species” allowed to be SHOT? Or do bullets cause “climate change?”

    • TG, “Does there come a time when the Green mafia will start to question their own morality?” Unlikely.
      They pretty much follow the ethics of Eric Hobsbawm, the famed British historian and “unrepentant communist” who excused the millions dead under Stalin for the pursuit of utopia.
      In that ethic, no amount of crime and murder is too much if the end result is holy wonderfulness. Followers of that logic, if not (yet) that excess, the green mafia will never admit to crime.

      • There is a parallel there with Climate Change.
        The end can justify very unpleasant means, IF there is a very high degree of certainty that the predicted End will occur for the proposed Means. There is the rub.
        Outside of orbital mechanics, there aren’t too many fields of science where a very high degree of certainty is possible for difficult long range predictions.
        As the means become more unpleasant, the end needs to be more positive and the prediction more certain.
        State socialism certainly did not qualify, and neither do the “predictions” of climate science.

    • Yea, definitely!!! But while they try to impose the superstate control over what we do with so-called pollution and land use, sending the gestapo EPA and BLM, they are increasingly pushing the “rights” of sexual deviants down our throats. They need to get out of the public area, the commons, and back into the home and bedrooms to control the real problems.

    • “Does there come a time when the Green mafia will start to question their own morality?”
      No, silly. Next question?

  4. it was a hybrid and that its presence was a sign of climate change
    as much sense as a mule is the result of donkeys and horses hanging out too late at bars

    • Oh dear, that reminds me of a truly terrible joke…………….What the heck? I’ll tell it anyway. The difference between a dog and a fox is six beers or three martini’s.

    • Well this is WaPo, whose reporters typically remind me of the old joke about how many it takes to screw in light bulb:
      One to hold the bulb and three to turn the table.

  5. It really makes no difference if it be a hybrid or not.
    The “species barrier” is more like a “species strong suggestion”.
    Polar bears and brown bears were the same species not long ago (in genetic terms). They definitely form hybrids now. All it takes is two like minded bears. Nothing special about it. Nor about natural variation and blond brown bears (afterall, the polar bear started as a blondish tending water loving brown bear).
    All sorts of species cross all the time. Canids especially. Wolf, dog, fox, coyote and more make hybrids even in the wild. Bears are cousins of dogs…
    Cats too. Ligers, tygons, leopards and panthers and more cross.
    Sheep and goats, despite different chromosome numbers. Zebra, burros and horses. I’ve seen a mule and her colt (dad was a horse in keeping with Haldane’s Rule) and hybrids are usually more fertile than the mule. Turkey chicken hybrids too, so not just mammals.
    In short: The existence of a hybrid means nothing (well, to anyone but the parents). That this was shown to not be a hybrid just means “nothing” is now more nothing…

    • WHAT? Do you spend a lot of time on a farm. You make it sound like this happens all the time. On absolute rare occasions does this happen, and in isolation situations. The thought is that when something in this manner is conceived it would be eliminated. Us here Texas folks don’t care much for donkey horses.

      • You separate the animals and deliberately cull any of these that do happen. Of course it’s not an everyday occurrence. “More common” in this circumstance means that it may be a surprise but it isn’t a shock and shouldn’t receive a “that’s impossible” response.
        Many environmentalists (and urbanites in general) have no clue about how animals work, and so they are genuinely surprised that these sorts of things are possible.

      • Grew up in a little farm town of about 3300 folks. Dad raised some beef cattle and we both raised rabbits, dogs, cats, guinea pigs and whatnot…
        But it was in California, and folks here walk on the wild side a bit more… maybe it’s just the climate…
        BTW, it does happen a lot in the wild too. Ligers have naturally happened, and one “species” of wolf is now shown to be a wolf fox hybrid IIRC the red wolf. It sparked a new fad of looking for what other rare species might just be hybrids of more common species.
        On farms, people keep animals separated and cull off types, or you would see more of them. As an amature seedsman, sorting out off types from unplanned hybridization events is a common task.
        Oh, and the human genome shows that we are a cross species hybid too… so you look as interspecies hybrids every day.

      • I saw a documentary not long ago on the very rapid advance of Coywolves in the eastern U.S. and Canada. This is a naturally occurring hybrid with an apparent epicenter in Ontario a few decades ago. The blend has very rapidly expanded into 100s of thousands of new square miles of territory and is still growing.
        I’m guessing that hybridization of this sort is an important natural aspect of evolutionary change.
        The hybridization of Homo sapiens sapiens with Homo sapiens neanderthalis 50,000 years ago has also been a pretty big deal.

    • Of course technically we’re all hybrids (unless you have pure African heritage) given that everyone whose ancestors left Africa has at least 3% Neandertal in them.

  6. I just remembered where I saw a photo of a shape like tht grizzly in the photo on this page (above).
    The claim that accompanied the figure was that it was a photo of Bigfoot (also known as Sasquatch).

  7. There’s a blonde joke in there somewhere, only it’s not of the grizzly type. If we want to know what’s happening to the climate, ask a blonde … climate scientists surely have not got a clue.

  8. Anyway it was a Blonde grizzlie, and could’n it be to combat the terrible warming?
    It is good story even if the polar bears fur is in fact is a good sun catcher that leads the sun in to the skin.

    • ClimateOtter:
      “… bear blonde jokes?”
      I’ve got some bare blonde jokes but I’ll just [pre-snip] them and not waste our host’s time.

    • Did you hear about the blond bear who got stuck in a bear trap?
      Chewed off 2 paws, 1 leg, and was still stuck!
      Booooooo hissss!
      I tried, but a feeble attempt at that 🙂

    • I heard that the question most asked by other grizzlies was, “Is she a real blonde?”
      And, apparently, blonde grizzlies do NOT have more fun…

      • Here’s an example of what I call a Carl Sagan joke:
        Q: What’s the difference between a test tube and a stork.
        A: The test tube is a small cylindrical, non-reactive glass vessel used for mixing chemicals in a laboratory while a stork is a long-legged, thick-billed wading bird in the family Ciconiidae.
        Carl Sagan / Ole and Lena hybrid joke:
        When Ole was courting Lena, he noticed that her blonde hair appeared to grow darker roots every month. But then her dark roots suddenly turned blonde again. Worried that he was being deceived, Ole sought out his smartest friend, a scientist from the University, telling him that Lena wouldn’t sleep with him until they were married, but before he was could propose, he had to know if Lena’s carpet matched her drapes. His friend told Ole to relax, his troubles were over. Lena’s carpet appeared to be a thick, brown, polypropylene, machine woven Berber laying on the floor, whereas her drapes were a thin, off-white, translucent, cotton polyester blend covering her windows.

      • Oh damn, I seem to have caught some kind of disease, and now can’t stop thinking up blonde hybrid jokes.
        Blonde / Feminist Glacier narrative hybrid joke.
        Did you hear about the glacier who was tired of being stereotyped as stupid blonde? She told her mother that she was a serious, smart, feminist glacier. She wanted to go to University and get a degree in women’s studies, not just flow down her home valley all her life, calving little icebergs.

      • Carl Sagan / Knock-knock hybrid joke:
        Knock! Knock!
        Who’s there?
        Carl Sagan.
        Carl Sagan who?
        Carl Sagan the astronomer, author and host of the original Cosmos series.
        (Oh, I should have said this isn’t funny now that he’s deceased, since it’s highly implausible that ghosts exist or if they did, that they could interact with the material world in order to create an sound wave in the atmosphere that sounds like a knock on someone’s door)

      • Last one, a blonde / bear hybrid joke
        A brown and a blonde grizzly bear were lying on their backs, taking in the rays, full from a delicious meal. The brown one says to the blonde one, “that was amazing. No fur, no tough hide, small delicious bones. What a stroke of good luck to have Jessica Simpson come walking by like that. She tried to run away from us, but in those high heels, she couldn’t move too fast. Her friend in the running shoes made a wise decision. And though she was chicken at first, we ran her down, caught her and feasted on her tender pink flesh. She was delicious. And the blonde grizzly said, “yes, but I thought she was human, was she really a chicken?”

  9. OH NO! I just invested my retirement savings in a US labor-based stuffed toy growler bear startup. We were going to stuff the little dickens with hemp, and use all natural dies. Instead of “Teddy bears” (aka Theodore Roosevelt) they were to be named “Barry bears.” 🙁

  10. There is only one emeritus research scientist among the (hybrid implies warming) crowd. Everyone else should also become emeritus.

  11. ‘Spirit Bears’ in NW B.C. have long been recognized as sort-of albino grizzlies, surely, not hybrids?
    As a side-bar, I have driven past a (beautiful!) huge, honey-blond grizzly strolling down the side of the Trans-Canada Hi-way near lake Louise, which attests to the naturally-occurring range of coat-colours.

  12. I grew up in Anchorage, AK. My High School’s mascot was the Toklat Grizzly. We were the “Golden Bears” because the Toklat Grizzly has blond fur.

  13. “I think it’s 99 per cent sure that it’s going to turn out to be a hybrid,” said Ian Stirling, an emeritus research scientist with Environment Canada and adjunct professor at the University of Alberta.”
    Someone should follow up with Stirling. Ask him how certain he is about global warming.

  14. That “hybrid” was just a blonde grizzly, as I warned it might.

    OK. Who put a full bottle of “Miss Clairol” in the trash bin?

  15. Maybe I missed it, but why would the go-to guy be a black bear expert from Minnesota?
    “Let’s see. Is it a grizzly-polar hybrid, or is it a blonde grizzly?” “Where can we find a bear expert in Alaska?” “I know, let’s call the black bear guy in Minnesota!”

  16. It’s a good thing all these scientists and media are on the side of the angels. Imagine the volume of misinformation that would pour forth if the were corrupt and funded by Big Corp. /sarc off.

  17. It as now been confirmed… Ian Stirling is a prophet . Aren’t real scientists supposed to get the facts before shooting their mouth off .
    The U of A just dropped it’s reputation’s now a hybrid university …99% sure .
    What ever sells . The CBC can’t wait to pump scary global warming stories to it’s stuck up politically correct audience . How can you screw up Hockey Night in Canada ? The CBC found a way . George who ?

  18. “Experts admit that many locals got carried away by the find”
    This is what the UK’s Daily Mail concluded (23 June) about the DNA results and the Nunavut wildlife officer’s comments. Then basically, re-ran their original story, with all it’s global warming hype.
    Now that’s the way to run a correction, media style!
    Other outlets, both inside and outside Canada (aside from CBC) are ignoring the DNA result turn-around and it’s likely that will continue, with the BREXIT win now the big story.

Comments are closed.