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Melting Arctic ice heralds new polar hybrids: Pizzlies and more

A pizzlie is a cross between a polar bear and a grizzly bear, and this new hybrid animal may foreshadow as many as 34 hybrids to come as Arctic ice melts, say scientists.

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An activist disguised as a polar bear holds up a sign at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico, on Dec. 9.

Israel Leal/AP

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An odd-looking white bear with patches of brown fur was shot by hunters in 2006 and found to be a cross between a polar bear and a grizzly bear. Apparently, grizzlies were moving north into polar bear territory. Since then, several hybrid animals have appeared in and around the Arctic, including narwhal-beluga whales and mixed porpoises.

The culprit may be melting Arctic sea ice, which is causing barriers that once separated marine mammals to disappear, while the warming planet is making habitats once too cold for some animals just right. The resulting hybrid creatures are threatening the survival of rare polar animals, according to a comment published Wednesday (Dec. 15) in the journal Nature. [Real of Fake? 8 Bizarre Hybrid Animals]

A team led by ecologist Brendan Kelly of the National Marine Mammal Laboratory counted 34 possible hybridizations between distinct populations or species of Arctic marine mammals, many of which are endangered or threatened.

IN PICTURES: Hybrid animals

"The greatest concern is species that are already imperiled," said Kelly, first author of the Nature comment. "Interbreeding might be the final straw."

Pizzlies and Narlugas

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