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Swimming bear video used to promote climate change threat to polar bears

Dr. Susan J. Crockford | Polar Bear Science | June 25, 2014

A video being hyped around the internet – “Witness a polar bear’s heartbreaking swim for ice in the Arctic” said one headline – is simply shameless propaganda, facilitated by the US Geological Survey and its polar bear biologists. USGS scientists involved in this work should be ashamed of themselves.

The caption for the Youtube video (published Jun 21, 2014) says this:

Take a swim with a polar bear family as they traverse the Arctic Ocean in search of sea ice.

This is a load of nonsense and a total misrepresentation of the facts.

In addition, the text added to the video is pure propaganda: it is being used to promote the US government position that sea ice loss due to climate change is a massive threat to polar bears. Unfortunately, recent studies contradict the contention that polar bears have already been harmed by declines in summer sea ice.

Here are some background to the video you should be aware of:

1) The bears were swimming away from the USGS researchers and film crew who had shot them full of sedatives and attached a camera to one of their necks — they were not swimming toward sea ice 100 miles away.

2) The video was shot in the Bering Sea, in April 2014, when sea ice was about its maximum extent of the year — there was lots of ice around when this video was filmed.

3) The company doing the filming is using this video as a fundraiser.

Details below, including a sea ice map for April 2014.

UPDATE  Below

Andy Revkin at the New York Times DotEarth blog promotes it as something spectacular (as he did a couple of weeks ago with an earlier offering from the same team, June 10), admitted in the comments section in response to someone who said it looked like these bears were being harassed by a boat:

“The cameras are on bears that were sedated (which counts as a kind of harassment, yes, but is part of a broader research project; see the earlier post linked from this one).”

Sea ice map for April (average extent for the month, label added), courtesy NSIDC Click it to enlarge.

Sea ice extent 2014 April average Bering Sea

The youtube video includes a link to the Arctic Exploration Fund of filmmaker Adam Ravetch’s Arctic Bear Productions company.

“To learn more about the Arctic Exploration Fund visit:
http://www.arcticbearproductions.com”

Here is the stated mandate of Ravetch’s NGO:

“Arctic Exploration Fund, AEF, is a non profit 501c 3 whose mission is to arm wild animals around the world, with groundbreaking new cameras, who go out and gather multiple hours of footage of their own lives, which we track using on-board satellite GPS, and together create a brand new natural history archive filmed entirely by the animals themselves.”

Nothing there about deliberately misrepresenting the facts shown in the film footage and using the video for propaganda purposes.

Finally, shame on the USGS: its work in the Bering and Beaufort Seas is being promoted as scientific polar bear research (like collecting blood samples), yet the real products being generated are propaganda videos.

UPDATE:

Swimming bear video used for propaganda was not shot with bear-mounted cameras

Dr. Susan J. Crockford | Polar Bear Science | June 27, 2014

pbear_swimming_USGSI just went back to Andy Revkin’s blog post on the swimming polar bear video story that I wrote about on Wednesday to see what kind of feedback it was getting. I found that it pays to check up.

A reader from Oregon questioned the filming techniques used for this video.

Revkin followed up.

And it turned out, the reader from Oregon was correct — the film used in this video was shot with “an assortment of traditional methods,not with the strapped on cameras that the USGS were using on the bears.

Revkin assumed from the background provided to him that this was leading-edge technology, bear-generated video. And even though he’d interviewed the filmmaker, the truth hadn’t come out.

Update June 29, 2014 – another damning comment made, added below.

Read the exchange below from Revkin’s blog:

David Cothran  Ashland OR Yesterday

Andrew,
I have spent quite a bit of time observing polar bears during the course of 12 summer seasons working as a guide and photographer in Svalbard. In my view, the bears in this footage often appear quite stressed, swimming rapidly away from the camera, turning to look behind and even diving briefly. I think that it is quite unlikely that all, or even most of this video was shot from cameras mounted on bears. As another commenter said, it very much appears that the bears are fleeing from a boat. I would like to hear from Ravetch’s team and other wildlife film makers about this question. It certainly appears to me that the majority of the footage was shot with pole-mounted cameras.

Stressing bears by chasing them, particularly when they are swimming, is illegal in many parts of their range and certainly unethical anywhere. I have great respect for your blog and the careful attention you give to complex issues; I hope that you will look further into this. Film makers working with politically charged species like polar bears must be very careful that their methods are unassailable.

David

Andrew Revkin
undefined 20 hours ago

I sent your note to Ravetch and he clarified that this footage was not shot with the new strapped-on cameras, as you suspected.

He included this note: “That footage was not taken with strapped on cameras and was documented with an assortment of traditional techniques. Aerial, pole cam, and more traditional filming techniques…. I operate with the greatest respect for animals when I am around them for brief periods of time.” [SJC bold]

Thanks for offering your valuable insight. (I also fixed the photo caption to avoid confusion.)

Kudos to Revkin for not dismissing the comment and for following through.

[See the video here]

This video was strictly propaganda from the get-go. The new-fangled camera technology Ravetch’s company and USGS polar bear biologists had been experimenting with was not used at all in the filming of this video.

Update June 29 – comment left today by Kelsey Eliasson

Kelsey Eliasson, Churchill 13 hours ago

I work as a polar bear guide in Churchill. These images looks like they came from Hudson Bay, likely near Southampton Island, when Ravetch was filming there in the summer of 2012, I believe. I have seen raw footage of this event and the bear is so stressed that at one point, it actually tries to climb into the boat after being followed for a considerable amount of time. Beautiful shot though.

So, this seems like it is not USGS, not in the Beaufort Sea and filmed in the summer. If I am wrong, I apologize, however, the similarities in the footage are striking.

The Arctic Exploration Fund actually seems like it is just raising money for documentary projects not actual research – wish I had thought of that.

It is very unfortunate that management decisions are being based on fictional portrayals of polar bear habitat and behaviour. The bears are the ones that will suffer in the long run.

Kels

* Dr. Susan J. Crockford is a zoologist with more than 35 years experience, including work on the Holocene history of Arctic animals. Like polar bear biologist Ian Stirling, Susan Crockford earned her undergraduate degree in zoology at the University of British Columbia. She is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, B.C. Polar bear evolution is one of Dr. Crockford’s professional interests, which she discusses in her book, Rhythms of Life: Thyroid Hormone and the Origin of Species.

June 30, 2014 - Posted by | Deception, Environmentalism, Science and Pseudo-Science

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