Many Arctic hybrids have already been seen in the wild.
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.
This is a beluga-narwhal hybrid. In this artist's interpretation, the hybrid has some narwhal colouring 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.
This is polar-brown bear hybrid. The hybrid has splotches of brown, a more blunt snout, and a hump similar to that of the grizzly bear. The ears are also smaller than the grizzly's. As sea ice melts, polar bears will spend more time on shore where they will meet grizzly bears, some of which are moving north because of warming temperatures.
This is polar-grizzly bear cub hybrid. The hybrid looks like a polar bear cub but with some brown fur.
This is a harbor-ringed seal hybrid. The hybrid's fur has more spots than the harbor seal, but is darker. Its body shape is similar to the ringed seal.
This is a harbor-ringed seal pup hybrid. The hybrid is mostly white, with some of the hooded seal pup's coloration.
A harbour-dall's Hybrid. The hybrid is darker and its hypothetical size is somewhere in between the two species. As harbour porpoises begin to move north from the temperate waters in the North Atlantic and North Pacific, they will begin to mingle with dall's porpoises. Several hybrid porpoises have been documented off the coast of British Colombia.
A southern-northern flying squirrel hybrid. As the climate warms, southern squirrels are pushing north to mate with northern flying squirrels. The hybrids are small like the southern species but have the grey-white belly fur of the northern animals.
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