Is Polar Bear Cannibalism on the Rise due to Climate Change? Ask the Inuit

ICTMN Staff
12/9/11

The BBC has posted graphic photos of an adult polar bear eating a cub that have intensified concerns that global warming or climate change is threatening the survival of the species. Polar bears are often seen as the "canary in the coal mine" of global warming.

As Tori Floyd points out at the Yahoo! Daily Brew blog, "this year has been an especially hard one for the polar bear." Canada has declared the polar bear a species of "special concern". But is a headline such as the one posted at ThirdAge -- "Polar Bear Cannibalism is Result of Global Warming" -- warranted?

While the grisly images are jarring, it's an accepted fact of zoology that polar bears (and other types of bears) are known to eat their young -- a point that photographer Jenny Ross concedes. "This type of intraspecific predation has always occurred to some extent," she said, according to the BBC story. "However, there are increasing numbers of observations of it occurring, particularly on land where polar bears are trapped ashore, completely food-deprived for extended periods of time due to the loss of sea ice as a result of climate change."

Blogger James Delingpole, in a post at telegraph.co.uk, doesn't buy Ross's explanation: "Don't you just love that having-it-both-ways fudge? On the one hand, she concedes that polar bears have been doing this kind of thing since time immemorial. On the other, for all that, it's just gotta be climate change hasn't it?"

With such passion on both sides of the climate change issue, the truth is hard to ferret out. Perhaps it's best to ask the indigenous people whose knowledge of their suroundings stretches back far further than scientific inquiry. The CBC did just that in 2009 when a similar polar bear "cannibalism" photo surfaced. Kivalliq Inuit Association president Jose Kusugak was dismissive of the hype: "A male polar bear eating a cub becomes a big story and they try to marry it with climate change and so on, it becomes absurd when it's a normal normal occurrence." He added that the media attention "makes the south — southern people — look so ignorant."

When it comes to reaching conclusions, modern science and indigenous wisdom share a love of accumulating evidence. While a single photo may prompt an emotional reaction, Inuit observers have better proof that climate change is occurring. They point to streams that don't freeze as they used to and changes in the sturdiness of animal pelts as evidence that the life they have lived for many centuries is not as it once was.

Cannibal polar bears

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