Climate Change

Starving for Accurate Information on Polar Bears

A viral video of a starving polar bear blamed climate change, but that's yet another lie.

Michael Swartz · Dec. 15, 2017

At this time of year, we’re accustomed to seeing polar bears as a holiday mascot for a certain soft drink. But you can rest assured that thousands of real live polar bears are anything but cute and cuddly as they hunt down and devour Arctic seals and assorted other prey.

Sadly, there’s one unnamed polar bear that most likely didn’t live to enjoy this time of plenty. In late August, the photography team of Paul Nicklen and Christina Mittermeier happened upon an emaciated member of the species that was down to its last brief bursts of energy, desperately rummaging through garbage heaps in a vain search for nourishment. “This is what a starving polar bear looks like,” wrote Mittermeier. “Weak muscles, atrophied by extended starvation could barely hold him up.”

Laying it on even thicker, Nicklen added, “We stood there crying — filming with tears rolling down our cheeks.” They added that there was nothing they could do to help, because feeding wild animals is illegal and “it’s not like we travel around with 200-300 pounds of seal meat.” And while they conceded that they couldn’t completely pin down the cause of the bear’s imminent demise, they presumed global warming was the culprit. “This is the face of climate change,” Mittermeier asserted. Paul Amstrup of Polar Bears International added, “Despite uncertainties about how this bear got into this starving condition, we can be absolutely certain if we allow the world to continue to warm, there will be ever greater numbers of such events as survival rates decline over more and more of the polar bear range.”

But not so fast, say the skeptics. First off, they counter, it’s not unusual to see starving polar bears in late August as that’s near the end of their dormant period. “That bear is starving, but it’s not starving because the ice suddenly disappeared and it could no longer hunt seals,” wrote Arctic wildlife biologist Jeff Higdon. Population-wise, polar bears are certainly not in immediate danger of extinction. In fact, some regions of the polar north have a significant polar bear presence.

Research — based on years’ worth of observations — tells us that, if anything, Arctic sea ice arrived on time, or even a bit early this winter — so healthy bears were easily able to swim out to their hunting grounds and floes of ice. Polar bear scientist Susan Crockford made the case that things were just fine. For her trouble, Crockford had her reputation sullied in the worst way. Terence Corcoran recounts:

As a starting point, we look to a story published December 1st on Vice News’s tech site. Motherboard, that included an interview with U.S. polar bear scientist/activist Stephen Amstrup. In the article, Amstrup accuses Canadian polar bear scientist Susan Crockford of filling her bear research with extreme allegations. Climate activists have targeted Crockford, a zoologist and adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Victoria, because her research inconveniently finds that, despite their claims, polar bears are not at risk. ‘You don’t have to read far in her material to see that it is full of unsubstantiated statements and personal attacks on scientists, using names like eco-terrorists, fraudsters, green terrorists and scammers,’ Amstrup claimed.

A few days later, Motherboard published a slithery retraction. After Crockford complained that Amstrup’s comments about her were “a lie” and that she has never used such terms, Amstrup “clarified” his comments. He said that when he accused Crockford of calling scientists fraudsters, he really meant to accuse “climate deniers as a whole, rather than Crockford in particular.”

Life is often made more difficult for those who don’t worship at the altar of climate change, and Crockford’s sin is that of being an oft-cited skeptic to the “polar bears are going extinct” narrative. Polar bears do indeed make for cute and cuddly symbols of the far north, and for now they aren’t going anywhere fast — despite what some with an agenda would lead us to believe.

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