The Problem with Polar Bear Propaganda

Inuit hunters fact-check a viral video on climate change

Photograph by railsr4me

On December 7, National Geographic shared a video in which an emaciated polar bear, hair clumped and skin hanging off its bones, drags itself over the tundra on Baffin Island, scavenging an animal skull from a rusty barrel. “This is what climate change looks like,” a caption declares ten seconds in. The captions go on to assert that with shrinking sea ice, polar bears are losing their platform from which to hunt seals and are starving as a result. The video quickly went viral. Though the footage was widely viewed and shared, not all agreed with the assessment from SeaLegacy, the conservation group that produced the video.

“Climate change has very little to do with it,” says Eric Ootoovak, a hunter and the vice-chair of the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, at the north end of Baffin Island. “You can really tell he’s sick. He’s not starving. If he was starving, he’d be able to move a bit more than that.” (On Twitter, biologist Jeff Higdon also suggested the polar bear might have had cancer.)