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Polar Bear Attack Shamelessly Misused

Susan Crockford, Polar Bear Science

Polar bears are not starving when they come off the ice. And they don’t come onto land looking for food, they come ready to fast.

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.

Here is the most ludicrous part of her story:

It [the attack] has also prompted new warnings from scientists of the rising risks of human-polar bear encounters because of climate change, with starving bears coming off the ice and onto land looking for food.” [my bold]

First of all, polar bears are not starving when they come off the ice –Western and Southern Hudson Bay bears are at their heaviest when they leave the ice in mid-summer. And they don’t come onto land looking for food, they come ready to fast. Polar bears in Hudson Bay expect to live off their fat until the ice comes back. If they find easily available food on land, they’ll eat it. But most bears don’t need to eat.

Nowhere in any of the stories I’ve read on this attack are there many details about the attacking bear: curiously, they don’t say if it was male or female, or in good or poor body condition. Goldenberg’s piece said witnesses described the bear as a sub-adult and that the cub of a female shot in the aftermath of the attack was taken to the Winnipeg Zoo. The article carried in the Nunatsiaq News Nov. 1 said this:

“Natural resource officers eventually tracked and killed the bear. Media reports say another bear, a female not involved in the attack, was also found near town and killed. Her cub was discovered nearby and taken to a holding facility.”

So, at least three bears made it through Churchill’s Polar Bear Patrol.And surely if any of these bears had been obviously starving, this would have been noted. As it stands, information about the bear’s condition is conspicuous by its absence.

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