Category Archives: Cannibalism

Cannibalism video shot in 2015 did not involve a starving polar bear

National Geographic has just posted an exclusive video shot mid-summer of 2015 of a male polar bear killing and eating a young cub.

National Geographic 2015 cruise Cannibalism video screencap_Feb 23 2016

It’s worth watching (23 February 2016; Polar bear cannialzies cub) [update: Youtube version posted below]. It was filmed in 2015 in Baffin Bay at mid-summer (during either their July 28-Aug 9 or Aug 7- 19 cruise; pdf of itinerary, dates and prices – oh my god, the prices! here). [Summer is 1 July-30 September]

You’ll soon realize the male bear was not thin or starving (as was true of a much-publicized 2011 event captured on film off Svalbard).

It is also obvious based on the dates listed above that this incident debunks the explanation that cannibalism by adult males is driven primarily by their desire to mate with the mother of the consumed cub: this incident occurred sometime between August 7 and August 19 (as I was informed via email, by a reader on one of those two cruises), which is well past the breeding season for polar bears. A male bear would not still have viable sperm by August and a female could not be forced into estrus. [added 26 February 2016]

National Geographic is already hyping this incident as more evidence of climate change harming polar bears, as the article accompanying the video suggests. However, this is just the typical oversell that accompanies much to do with polar bear these days.

The bear was not “driven to desperation” : he simply took advantage of a rare chance to eat during the summer:

“Without the ability to hunt seals, polar bears may be driven to ever more extreme cannibalism, if they’re not already.”

It’s clear to me that this was an opportunistic kill made at a time of year when few seals are available, as even Stirling admits. It reiterates the point I’ve made many times before, that polar bears on the sea ice in summer have few feeding opportunities.

Incidents of cannibalism cannot be said to be increasing because there is no scientific baseline for which recent occurrences can be compared. Scattered anecdotal reports of any behaviour cannot be touted as evidence for a trend even though they may be of interest and worth recording.

UPDATE 23 February 2016: Video now posted on Youtube, see it copied below:

Polar bears and melting ice: three facts that shouldn’t surprise you

If I was invited by USA TODAY to discuss how climate change is affecting polar bears now – summed up in three talking points – this is what I’d say. I’d use some meaningful images rather than cute pictures of cuddly bear cubs and I’d provide links to my work with references and details to back up my answers.

Compare my responses to those supplied by Steve Amstrup in his capacity as spokesperson for Polar Bears International (“Save our sea ice!”) to Jolie Lee at USA TODAY last week, who’s word is expected to be taken as gospel.

AK PB N Shore-USFWS Barrow_labeled

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Center for Biological Diversity provides a public disservice on polar bear status

Media agency Aljazeera gave free advertizing the other day (June 16, 2014, “New TV ads focus on plight of polar bears in warming world, by Renee Lewis) to the Center for Biological Diversity’s TV fear-mongering campaign about polar bears.

USFWS photo

USFWS photo

With unmitigated gall, it’s being billed as a “public service announcement.”
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Polar bear female with cubs fights off adult male – photos from W Hudson Bay

Discovery News ran a photo feature yesterday (January 28, 2014), courtesy Mike Lockhart from Polar Bears International, of an interesting incident Lockhart witnessed while was working with a government (Manitoba Conservation) research team surveying bears of Western Hudson Bay in the fall of 2013.

Figure 1. Female with 2 cubs turns on an adult male (far right) that she had been happily feeding with moments before. Mike Lockhart photo, Polar Bears International and Discovery News.

Figure 1. Female with 2 cubs turns on an adult male (far left) that she had been happily feeding with moments before. This is the 3rd photo in the sequence; see description and photo 4 below. Mike Lockhart photo, Polar Bears International, Discovery News story.

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Human-polar bear conflicts: Stirling 1974 vs. Amstrup 2013

What a difference a few decades makes to attitudes about human-polar bear conflicts:

Ian Stirling, 1974:

Dr. Stirling felt that complete cessation of hunting, such as exists in Norway, may increase bear-man conflicts. Dr. Reimers replied that the careful harvesting of polar bears was probably desirable, but the total ban now in effect was largely an emotional and political decision rather than a biological one. Last year four bears were killed in self-defense.” [my bold]
(1974 PBSG meeting “Norway – progress reported by [Thor] Larsen”; Anonymous 1976:11).

Stephen Amstrup, 2013:

“We have predicted in no uncertain times [sic – terms?] that as bears become hungrier as the sea ice absence period is longer, more and more of these animals are going to be venturing into communities, venturing into villages, raiding food caches, getting into garbage, and even attacking people. So we predict these kinds of events are going to be more frequent and more severe because of climate change. [my bold]
(The Guardian, November 4, 2013).

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Churchill polar bear attack shamelessly used to advance global warming agenda

I guess Suzanne Goldenberg, writing for The Guardian, just couldn’t help herself with this latest story (November 4):Polar bear attacks: scientists warn of fresh dangers in warming Arctic. Two people injured in latest attack as hungry bears deprived of access to sea ice increasingly look for food on land.

Reporting on the attack is one thing — several papers covered this over the weekend (see Featured Quote #46, posted yesterday, for links to two of them). However, Goldenberg shamelessly makes this about global warming, aided and abetted by Polar Bears International (PBI) representative Steven Amstrup, a claim that doesn’t hold up to even minor scrutiny.

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Polar bear cannibalism and sea ice, the spring of 1976

Remember Ian Stirling’s claim that late freeze up in Western Hudson Bay in 2009 was forcing polar bears to resort to cannibalism (here and here), with gut-wrenching images and video provided for the media? Or Steve Amstrup’s claim for a similar phenomenon in the Southern Beaufort in 2004?

I pointed out that Stirling’s claim was way overblown and that Amstrup’s incidents were almost certainly the result of heavy ice in the spring (not low ice in summer), similar to the heavy ice conditions and polar bear starvation documented in the same region back in 1974-1976.

It turns out that the heavy ice conditions documented in the Eastern Beaufort in the mid-1970s had much broader effects on polar bears and ringed seals than has been appreciated.
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