Tag Archives: cannibalism

Ian Stirling’s latest howler: “the polar bear who died of climate change”

Will wildlife biologist and Polar Bear Specialist Group member Ian Stirling now say anything – no matter how unscientific – to garner more sympathy and media attention for polar bears? It appears so.  [see followup post published Aug. 11, here]

A tabloid-style picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words article appeared in the environment section of the UK newspaper The Guardian yesterday (August 6, 2013) with a picture of a dead polar bear meant to wring your heart. The picture is a vehicle for statements from Ian Stirling and others that this polar bear died from climate change. A longer article was alongside.

The caption below the photo of a dead polar bear (animal tragedy porn) is this:

This 16-year-old male polar bear died of starvation resulting from the lack of ice on which to hunt seals, according to Dr Ian Stirling.”

Many folks have been asking questions about this and so have I.

I suggest this is what really happened: the polar bear biologists working in Svalbard earlier this year knew this bear was going to die back in April when they captured him – they simply waited, with a photographer on hand, until he died. It was an orchestrated photo-op.

[Update, Aug. 8, 2013: I suggest it was not necessary for anything more to happen to “orchestrate” this photo than for the researchers who captured the bear in April to tell colleagues and local tour boat operators (who always have avid photographers on board) to “keep an eye out for a dead bear, we don’t think this guy is going to make it.” However, very little real information is provided. Who knows when (or from whom) we’ll get the whole story — if ever? That’s why anecdotal accounts like these aren’t “evidence” of anything, in the scientific sense. That’s the real take-home message here.  If this dead bear was being presented as scientific evidence, we’d have been given all the details, including necropsy results, local ice conditions, precise dates, locations, and photos of any other bears that were seen that were in poor condition. In other words, a proper scientific report. ]

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Cannibalism update and insight on the timing of media hype

In my last post, I went over some of the spin and misrepresentation of fact contained in the claim by leading polar bear biologists Steven Amstrup, Ian Stirling and Andrew Derocher (Amstrup et al. 2006; Stirling and Derocher 2012) that cannibalism is on the increase because of the effects of global warming on Arctic sea ice.

I’ve had an opportunity to follow up on three points that puzzled me. Three relate to the Amstrup et al. paper that described three cases of cannibalism in the southeastern Beaufort Sea in 2004 and one to the incidents in western Hudson Bay in 2009. In the process, I found at least three more misrepresentations of fact and gained some insight on why these incidents of cannibalism were hyped so enthusiastically when they were. Continue reading

Cannibalism in polar bears: spin and misrepresentation of fact galore

In my next to last post, I discussed some of the anecdotal reports of den collapses included in the peer-reviewed summary of facts presented by biologists Ian Stirling and Andrew Derocher (2012) that supposedly support the premise that global warming is already having an impact on polar bear populations (discussed previously here, here, and here), prophesied to be even greater in the future. While they admit that such reports are not based on scientific studies, they nevertheless include them in their published list of global warming impacts, and not surprisingly, that is how others have interpreted them.

The same is true for their treatment of the phenomenon of cannibalism in polar bears. In that same paper, Stirling and Derocher (2012:2701) have a section called “Anecdotal observations consistent with predictions of the effects of climate warming.” This section begins with a discussion of cannibalism:

“There have been several well-publicized observations that are consistent with predictions of the effects of climate warming on polar bears, but cannot be statistically linked. For example, intraspecific aggression and cannibalism were predicted to increase in polar bears with climate warming (Derocher et al. 2004, Table 1). Observations of infanticide and cannibalism by thin adult males on land during the open water period have been documented (e.g., Lunn & Stenhouse, 1985; Derocher & Wiig, 1999; Amstrup et al., 2006; Stone & Derocher 2007). Such events have been known to occur for many years and, although their significance is unclear, there is some evidence suggesting the frequency of occurrence is increasing in areas where bears fast on land for extended periods. ” [my bold]

And this is the evidence for the supposed increase in occurrence:

“For example, in late summer and autumn 2010 [sic], there were eight observations of cannibalism on the western coast of Hudson Bay compared to one or two in the previous 5 years (I. Stirling, unpublished data).” [my bold; 2010 should be 2009 – more on this later.]

Were these observations of cannibalism made by polar bear researchers or someone else? Were there as many observers in the area in each of the five years prior to the year they occurred, as there were when these incidents were observed? We don’t know, because it’s unpublished data.

Stirling and Derocher have again included critical information in their list of facts that has not been published. I guess I’ll have to add “evidence for cannibalism” to my previous list of “Critical evidence on polar bears in W. Hudson Bay is unpublished” (see also “Stirling and Derocher’s sea ice trick) [there is more information available, but it’s not from peer-reviewed sources – more on this below]

In this post, I take a look at some of the evidence that is published, some of the media interviews and reports that followed, and the information that came from a press release issued by an advocate group. I’ve made a table summarizing the details of all recent papers and reported incidents, and some of them are described in more detail. In a footnote, I have a brief summary of why polar bears kill and eat each other.

These details reveal some rather shocking evidence of scientists misrepresenting evidence – in their peer-reviewed papers and in interviews with the media – and bathing their global warming prophesies in the blood-lust of cannibalism. It’s past time to shine a big bright light on the cannibal issue, so pardon the length of this post.

[See followup post April 19 here]

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The two faces of polar bear biologists – Zac Unger interviews Amstrup and Stirling

Former firefighter Zac Unger has been in the news quite a lot over the last few months, promoting his new book, “Never Look a Polar Bear in the Eye” (see Zac’s website here, where you’ll find a list of some of the articles he’s written; the Canadian Geographic one is very good (“The truth about polar bears”) and was the one that originally caught my attention in early December 2012. One article that I’ve read is missing from that list, “Are Polar Bears Really Disappearing?” (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 8, 2013). There is a book review in the Winnipeg Free Press here (Feb. 2, 2013) and on climate scientist Judith Curry’s blog (Dec. 21, 2012), and an interview with Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente here from Feb. 23, 2013).

I’ve mentioned bits from some of these articles previously: Featured Quote #32 (Feb. 23, 2013) and in my Dec. 16, 2012 post, ‘Species-threatening’ population declines vs. polar bear declines.

In my last post, I promised a follow-up discussion on cannibalism in polar bears, as it has been promoted by polar bear biologists. I recalled a discussion of this by Unger, which I think makes a nice lead-in for my own essay, which I should have up in a few days.

Here is the money quote from Unger (with a link to the NBC interview with Amstrup and Stirling he is talking about). A lengthy excerpt from the article is below, for the context – it’s well worth a read:

[In 2008, after watching polar bear biologist Dr. Steve Amstrup give an interview on NBC News explaining “the evidence behind the decision to list the polar bear as threatened. Evidence like cannibalism.”] “Wait a second. Hadn’t Amstrup just finished telling me that the cannibalism thing was getting too much play by a bloodthirsty media?” Zac Unger, PS Magazine, Dec. 17, 2012 [2:40 min. NBC News video here]

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