Remember that video of an emaciated
Baffin Island Somerset Island polar bear that went viral last December?1 In an unexpected follow-up (“Starving-Polar-Bear Photographer Recalls What Went Wrong“; National Geographic, August 2018 issue), photographer Cristina Mittermeier makes some astonishing admissions that might just make you sick.
It turns out they didn’t just come across the dying bear the day it was filmed: it was spotted at least two days earlier by Paul Nicklen. He must have had a satellite phone with him when he saw the bear but the only call he made was to his film crew — he made no attempt to find a local conservation officer to euthanize the bear, which would have been the right thing to do.
ADDED July 27 2018: Calling a conservation officer to euthanize the bear would have been the right thing to do not only out of compassion (and to know the cause of illness, because a necropsy would have been done), but because a starving bear is especially dangerous: it would have been a potential danger to any unsuspecting person who set foot on the island (he was strong enough to swim away, so was probably strong enough to kill a child, if not an adult).
The bear’s emaciated, near-death stagger2 was simply too tantalizing to pass up (video needs action: an emaciated dead bear would not been nearly as effective). Mittermeier claims they knew when they filmed the bear that he was sick or injured, but Nicklon presented it as an effect of climate change regardless. Mittermeier now says National Geographic simply “went too far” with their video caption (“This is what climate change looks like“), that she and Nicklan “lost control of the narrative.”
Actually, what they lost was their humanity.
Posted in Advocacy, Conservation Status
Tagged Baffin Island, climate change, Mittermeier, National Geographic, Nicklen, photographer, polar bear, sea ice, SeaLegacy, tragedy porn, video
National Geographic has just posted an exclusive video shot mid-summer of 2015 of a male polar bear killing and eating a young cub.
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:
Activist polar explorer Børge Ousland’s told National Geographic that more polar bear encounters on land are due to reduced sea ice – without any reference to population changes over that time or revealing when or where these observations were made.
More vague anecdotal observations and opinions posing as scientific evidence.
Posted in Advocacy, Population, Sea ice habitat
Tagged activist, climate change, encounters, explorer, glaciers, Ice Legacy, Kara Sea, National Geographic, polar bear, population size, problem bears, sea ice, Severnaya Zemlya