The Washington Post is out with a shocking headline based on a study claiming currently “rare” polar bear attacks on humans could become more frequent due to man-made global warming.
“Polar bears hurt by climate change are more likely to turn to a new food source — humans” is the rather chilling headline WaPo went with in its article, published Thursday. The Post reported that with higher temperatures, “the more likely polar bears are to interact with humans — and possibly attack and eat them.”
WaPo relied on a recently-published study in the Wildlife Society Bulletin that looked at recorded polar bear attacks going back to 1870. The authors found “no trend” in the number of attacks by decade through 2014, which you’d think would count against the claim that bear attacks increase with less ice, but you thought wrong.
Instead, the study’s authors argue the “frequency” of attacks, which they say may be increasing. The report also found that “nutritionally stressed adult male polar bears were the most likely to pose threats to human safety.”
The study claims “the greatest number of polar bear attacks occurred in the partial decade of 2010 — 2014, which was characterized by historically low summer sea ice extent and long ice-free periods.”
Polar bears rely on Arctic sea ice to hunt seals, so projections of shrinking sea ice coverage mean more bears could be forced inland. If that happens, there’s an increased chance starving polar bears will meet up with humans.
Study authors say this could increase the chances of humans becoming polar bear food.
“But a bear’s still got to eat,” Geoff York, a study co-author who works for the activist group Polar Bears International, told WaPo. “They’re more likely to try new things, and sometimes, that might be us.”
So, should people worry about being eaten on their morning Arctic stroll? Veteran zoologist Susan Crockford argued the “data used in the paper are seriously skewed and in my opinion this totally invalidates the authors’ conclusions.”
Crockford, an expert on polar bears, wrote on her blog PolarBearScience.com the authors’ claim that polar bear attacks are rare is based on skewed data. The authors relied on modern, record accounts of polar bear attacks that completely ignore attacks on Inuits who lived in close proximity to the animals for centuries.
“How could any Arctic scholar not know that formerly-abundant Inuit inhabitants of North American and Greenland … traditionally hunted the same marine mammals as polar bears, using the same sea ice platforms as the bears? Many Inuit still do,” Crockford wrote Thursday.
Crockford also noted the paper tries to blame sea ice decline for polar bear attacks by ignoring “a biologically valid explanation for the apparent increase in hungry young male polar bears that have attacked people over the last few years.”
Crockford wrote there’s an “increased risk stemming from the larger proportion of adult males that now exist in protected populations.”
“Adult males frequently steal the kills of younger bears and in recovering (i.e. growing) populations, relatively more adult males potentially generate more young males that are nutritionally stressed and at risk of attacking humans,” she wrote.
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