Critics Question Whether Polar Bear In Viral Video Is The ‘Face Of Climate Change’

Experts believe the emaciated polar bear might have ended up the way it did due to more natural causes.

Critics Question Whether Polar Bear In Viral Video Is The 'Face Of Climate Change'
Robert McGillivray / Shutterstock

Experts believe the emaciated polar bear might have ended up the way it did due to more natural causes.

Last week, a video of an emaciated, seemingly malnourished polar bear went viral, with the clip showing the bear moving sluggishly as it desperately tried to find food. The bear was described quite notably as the “face of climate change,” as the video tugged at the heartstrings of viewers around the world. But not everyone is convinced that the dying animal’s plight is a result of climate change, and there are also some who believe that the video may be part of a “calculated” public relations exercise.

As previously reported by the Inquisitr, the polar bear video was actually taken earlier in the year, as National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen teamed up with filmmakers from the Sea Legacy conservation group, which he co-founded. The team went to Baffin Island in northeastern Canada in August, and filmed the polar bear as it searched for food in a nearby trash can, looking extremely thin and unhealthy. The bear then collapsed on the ground in exhaustion after its unsuccessful attempt to find something to eat.

With days having passed since the video went viral, some researchers have gone on record to question whether climate change was really responsible for the sad state the bear was in. On Tuesday, the National Post cited multiple experts, who commented on the polar bear video and speculated on why it appeared to be in such bad shape. In an email to the publication, polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher said that the animal looked to be an old male “in declining health,” but without obvious clinical signs suggesting that it was starving, such as convulsions.

Another expert on the matter, Arctic wildlife biologist Jeff Higdon, remarked that the bear may have been starving, but might have looked the way it did because it was suffering from aggressive bone cancer.

“That bear is starving, but [in my opinion] it’s not starving because the ice suddenly disappeared and it could no longer hunt seals. It’s far more likely that it is starving due to health issues.”

Like Higdon, University of Alberta polar bear researcher Ian Stirling said that he believes the polar bear in the video is starving, “regardless of the cause.” He contested Derocher’s speculation that the creature is an older bear, saying that it didn’t have the scarring around the neck that normally would have been expected.

Offering its own opinion on the matter, the National Post wrote that the video taken by Sea Legacy likely boils down to public relations strategy more than anything else, as the group’s mission is to “use the power of storytelling to create the change we want to see.”

“These images aren’t the work of a scientist, an impartial documentarian or even a concerned bystander. They are part of a very calculated public relations exercise.”

One day before the National Post published its piece on the polar bear video, National Geographic acknowledged that the public’s mileage has varied when it comes to the clip, with some agreeing that the emaciated bear is indeed the “face of climate change,” and others seeing it as a “red herring.” The publication also addressed several questions and concerns that people posed on social media, starting with the fact that Nicklen and fellow Sea Legacy co-founder Cristina Mittermeier did not do anything to help the bear.

According to Mittermeier, it would have been “madness” to approach a starving bear without any weapons for self-defense, and with her team being too far away to ask help from villagers, she and Nicklen decided to shoot a video of the creature so they can “share this tragedy with the world.”

Talking about whether the polar bear in the video was starving or ill, National Geographic wrote that the bear was indeed starving, but added that it’s “nearly impossible” to determine whether it had any form of disease without a full necropsy. As for the fate of the bear, Sea Legacy is unsure of what happened after they stopped filming, but Nicklen believes that the animal died “within a day or two” after it was filmed.