‘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.
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.