In 2006, a white bear with brown splotches, believed to be a hybrid of a polar bear and a grizzly, was shot by Arctic hunters. Then in 2009, a possible hybrid of a right whale and a bowhead was photographed in the Bering Sea.
The increased hybridization of animals is a strong indication that our climate is changing.
As Arctic sea ice continues to melt at drastic rates, different species of seals, whales, and bears previously blocked by huge slabs of ice will begin mingling in the same regions and possibly mating.
Hybrid animals are generally infertile. But the trend is worrisome because it could drive certain species to extinction since those animals are no longer mating with their own kind.
A study published in the journal Nature in 2010 listed 34 species that are at risk of cross-breeding because of a warming climate.
We asked artist Nickolay Lamm to help us imagine what some of those hybrid animals would like if they came to life.
Elin Pierce, a writer and editor with a Ph.D. in biology, helped to hypothesize what features the hybrid animals would have, based on dominant features of the original two species, and any descriptions or photos of those hybrids that already exist in the wild.
A beluga whale is on the left and narwhal is on the right.
This is a beluga-narwhal hybrid. In this artist’s interpretation, the hybrid has some narwhal coloring and the forehead has less of a bump. In the late 1980s, a whale skull thought to be that of a beluga-narwhal mix was found in west Greenland. Local hunters say they have also spotted the hybrid.
A polar bear is on the left and a grizzly bear is on the right.
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