“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,” writes zoologist Dr. Susan Crockford on her blog Polarbearscience.com.
Last Tuesday, the Guardian posted a picture of a dead polar bear, looking like nothing more than skin and bones, with this caption: “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, who has studied polar bears for almost 40 years with the Canadian Wildlife Service and the University of Alberta.”
According to the Guardian’s account, the dead polar bear was found in Svalbard — an archipelago between Norway and the North Pole. Polar bear expert, Dr. Ian Stirling said that a lack of sea ice it needed to hunt seals on forced the bear to range farther for food until it collapsed from starvation and died.
(Ashley Cooper/Global Warming Images)
“From his lying position in death the bear appears to simply have starved and died where he dropped,” said Stirling, who is now with Polar Bears International — a global warming activist group. “He had no external suggestion of any remaining fat, having been reduced to little more than skin and bone.”
The polar bear had been examined by Scientists in April in southern Svalbard and it appeared to be healthy, and that same bear had been captured years ago in the same area by researchers which means that the location of its dead body — in northern Svalbard — was unusual.
“Most of the fjords and inter-island channels in Svalbard did not freeze normally last winter and so many potential areas known to that bear for hunting seals in spring do not appear to have been as productive as in a normal winter,” Stirling said. “As a result the bear likely went looking for food in another area but appears to have been unsuccessful.”
Ashley Cooper, the photographer who took the picture, said that the sight was “desperately sad.”
“There was just no fat on it. It was just completely shrunken and shriveled, a very, very skinny specimen of a polar bear,” Cooper told NBC News. “It looked basically like a rug because there was just no weight on it at all.”
“The fact that the bear was onshore in April, available for capture by polar bear biologists, is a red flag,” wrote Crockford. “He should not have left the ice this early. He should have been out on the ice hunting seals. The ice may have pulled away from the shore but there was no compelling reason for him to go onshore if he was healthy and still successfully hunting — he just had to stay on the ice. He must have been sick or dying of old age.”
“This bear was doomed back in April by the simple act of leaving the ice so early and the biologists working the region (putting radio collars on bear) had to have known it: leaving the ice in April was not normal behavior. I suggest they alerted their colleagues and then kept track of him until he died, so they could get a useful picture of his dead carcass,” Crockford continued.
Crockford added that male polar bears in Hudson Bay and Davis Strait routinely fast for four months every summer, while females can fast for eight months, so a bear who was healthy in April should not have starved to death three months later.
Polar bears have appeared in the global warming debate before. The Polar Bear Specialist Group issued a statement before the 2009 international climate meeting in Copenhagen claiming that polar bear cannibalism was on the rise due to global warming.
“I suggest this incident is meant to prime the media pump to make sure the PBSG get maximum coverage and that the right message is spread,” Crockford writes. “In short, it’s pretty clear to me that this poor bear did not die of climate change: he was simply used as a prop for the message that activist polar bear biologists want to convey.”
Polar bears were the first species to be listed on the Endangered Species List because of global warming. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature predicts melting sea ice will wipe out more than one-third of polar bears in about 45 years.
However, global temperatures have remained flat for about the last 15 years and, despite reports of melting Arctic sea ice, there are more polar bears alive today than there were 40 years ago.