Viral Video of Emaciated Polar Bear May Not Be What It Seems
When Leo Ikakhik saw this weekend's viral video of an emaciated polar bear rummaging through the garbage in search of food, he wasn't shocked.
"I wasn't totally surprised. These things happen," the Nunavut polar bear monitor told As It Happens host Carol Off. "Mother Nature is going to do part of that. You know, it's just part of the cycle."
Ikakhik has been monitoring polar bear activity in and around Arviat, a small community on the western shore of Hudson Bay, since 2010, working with organizations like the World Wildlife Federation to keep the creatures away from human populations and reduce polar bear deaths.
"Everybody probably was shocked to see a really skinny bear, but this is not my first time seeing something like this."
In the clip, an emaciated bear, bones visible through its yellowing fur, struggles to walk as it searches for food in an abandoned fishing camp on Somerset Island, near Baffin Island in Nunavut.
It was shot in July by National Geographic photojournalist Paul Nicklen for his conservation organization SeaLegacy, which runs regular expeditions in the North to document the effects of climate change.
"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 As It Happens on Friday.
"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."
Mittermeier said that while SeaLegacy could not be sure what caused this particular polar bear's condition, the group strongly suspects melting sea ice caused by climate change is to blame.
But Ikakhik isn't convinced.
Instead, he suspects the creature was likely sick or recovering from an old injury that left it unable to hunt.
He said he sees healthy and well-fed polar bears in the Arctic all the time, but some are simply unlucky.
For example, he said he recently came across a bear with a broken paw that couldn't hunt, and locals had to put it down.
"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."
He's not the only one speaking out about the video.
After As It Happens aired its interview with Mittermeier, several listeners from the North contacted the show to object to using one dramatic video clip to illustrate the wider issue of climate change without consulting locals.
Others questioned the timing of the video's release, noting it was filmed during the region's snowless summer months, but posted online in December.
That bear is obviously quite sick or badly injured, which can also happen to any other animal. It could have been in a serious accident, got a bad fight injury or ate something that damaged it’s vital organs. Please, don’t assume all bears are starving because of this one photo.— Gordy Kidlapik (@Ingutaq) December 9, 2017
Ikakhik said he's not denying the existence of climate change or its effect on the North, but he takes issue with one piece of footage being used to paint a bigger picture about wildlife in the North.
"These things happen," he said.