‘Fake News’ for a Good Cause? Viral Polar Bear Video Not What it Seems

‘Fake News’ for a Good Cause? Viral Polar Bear Video Not What it Seems

The viral video showing an emaciated and starving bear desperately searching for food has garnered massive attention around the world, but in the six days since its publication serious doubts have emerged among the scientific and indigenous communities.

Nunavut polar bear monitor Leo Ikakhik has been surveying the animal populations on the western shore of the Hudson Bay, Canada in the periphery of the Arviat community, for the last seven years, collaborating with organizations such as the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). His work involves harm reduction and conservation efforts; essentially limiting human contact with the polar bears.

"I wasn't totally surprised. These things happen," Ikakhik told CBC Radio. "Mother Nature is going to do part of that. You know, it's just part of the cycle. Everybody probably was shocked to see a really skinny bear, but this is not my first time seeing something like this."

The viral video, which shows a beleaguered and emaciated bear desperately searching for food in an abandoned fishing camp on Somerset Island, has been viewed more than 1.4 million times on Instagram in the six days since it was uploaded, and stolen headlines and hearts across the world.

My entire @Sea_Legacy team was pushing through their tears and emotions while documenting this dying polar bear. It's a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me, but I know we need to share both the beautiful and the heartbreaking if we are going to break down the walls of apathy. This is what starvation looks like. The muscles atrophy. No energy. It's a slow, painful death. When scientists say polar bears will be extinct in the next 100 years, I think of the global population of 25,000 bears dying in this manner. There is no band aid solution. There was no saving this individual bear. People think that we can put platforms in the ocean or we can feed the odd starving bear. The simple truth is this-if the Earth continues to warm, we will lose bears and entire polar ecosystems. This large male bear was not old, and he certainly died within hours or days of this moment. But there are solutions. We must reduce our carbon footprint, eat the right food, stop cutting down our forests, and begin putting the Earth-our home-first. Please join us at @sea_legacy as we search for and implement solutions for the oceans and the animals that rely on them-including us humans. Thank you your support in keeping my @sea_legacy team in the field. With @CristinaMittermeier #turningthetide with @Sea_Legacy #bethechange #nature #naturelovers This video is exclusively managed by Caters News. To license or use in a commercial player please contact info@catersnews.com or call +44 121 616 1100 / +1 646 380 1615"

The video was shot by National Geographic photojournalist and fellow Paul Nicklen for his environmental conservation organization Sea Legacy.

"When the animal first got up and we could see that he was actually in the late stages of starvation," SeaLegacy co-founder Cristina Mittermeier told CBC Radio. "All of our team was in tears and feeling completely helpless to do anything about it except to roll our cameras and share it with the world."

While Mittermeier and Nicklen posit that melting sea ice, caused by climate change, is to blame, Ikahik isn't so sure, instead proposing that the bear may have been sick or injured to such a degree that it couldn't hunt properly.

Ikahik added that, not only does he see healthy, well-fed polar bears in the area all the time but that locals were forced to euthanize a polar bear they encountered recently that had broken its paw. It’s also important to note that bears are apex predators and, as such, they die from starvation, sickness or battle wounds caused by other bears.

"Since I'm from the North, I wouldn't really fall for the video," he said. "I wouldn't really blame the climate change. It's just part of the animal, what they go through."

Critics have highlighted that one singular, highly emotive video does not prove anything, especially when there was little to no communication with the local Inuit community, who have coexisted with the bears for generations.

 

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