Saturday, February 6, 2010

Polar Bear Cannibalism: ABC provides a correction

Updated 23 February 2010. ABC NEWS WATCH suggested the report lacked balance. This complaint was followed up and ABC have provided the following correction: 

Polar bears

ABC News Online
On December 5, in an article about the melting of Hudson Bay sea ice in Canada, the ABC used the heading that climate change was “driving polar bears to cannibalism”. The story explained that the sea ice which the bears need to walk across when hunting, was not appearing until weeks later than usual. This means the bears had a shortage of food and there had been cases reported of the bears eating cubs for food. The ABC acknowledges that polar bears are not necessarily driven towards cannibalism because of climate change; this claim should have been attributed to conservationists. The heading has been changed to: “Climate change drives polar bears to cannibalism, conservationists say”. Also, the story did not include sufficient balance and reaction of an Inuit spokesman to the cannibalism claims was added to the story.

The story now appears much more balanced. MH. 

See UPDATE HERE for more details.

ABC HEADLINE: "Climate change driving polar bears to cannibalism"
ABC REPORTED: The report by Dan Karpenchuk in Toronto claims climate change is driving polar bears to cannibalism based on reports from un-mentioned scientists.

THE COMPLAINT: A very quick web search of peer reviewed science (see links below) reveals that cannibalism is normal among polar bears and is not due to global warming. In fact it can be associated with increased numbers of bears putting pressure on the food supply. Please issue a correction of this report that gives a false impression of the reasons for cannibalism among polar bears.
ABC news was once a reliable source of information but when your reports are so easily disproved by a simple online search it appears that your journalists are either biased in their reporting, or in need of further training. It generally is normal to obtain more than one opinion.


ABC News Online, 6 December 2009 (received)

Summary published: Friday 08, January 2010

Complaint: Two online readers (one of them ANW) challenged the accuracy of a report ‘Climate change driving polar bears to cannibalism’.

Audience and Consumer Affairs response: The ABC acknowledged that polar bears are not necessarily driven towards cannibalism because of climate change, and have been known to eat juveniles in times of extreme food shortage. The claim that climate change was driving bears to cannibalism should have been attributed to conservationists. The headline was amended and an Editor’s Note attached to the report alerting audience members to the error.
COMMENT: The story loses its impact and its worth as news as we discover a group of biased conservationists claimed that global warming was responsible. Next time check your facts and your sources, perhaps asking an Inuit might have helped.
Here's how The Times covered this story, at least they covered the alternative view (and had a nice photo).
Peer reviewed Studies:
Infanticide and Cannibalism of Juvenile Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus) in Svalbard.
ARCTIC, VOL. 52, NO. 3 (SEPTEMBER 1999) P. 307

ABSTRACT. Two instances of infanticide and cannibalism in polar bears (Ursus maritimus) were observed in SE Svalbard, at

Hopen Island. In the first, an adult male killed three young cubs at a den site and consumed one of them. In the second, an adult male actively pursued, killed, and consumed a dependent yearling. Infanticide of dependent polar bear offspring by adult males may be more common in Svalbard than in other populations because the population is close to carrying capacity or because geographic features reduce spatial segregation of age and sex classes.

Observations of intraspecific aggression and cannibalism in polar bears (Ursus maritimus ).
Taylor, M Larsen, T Schweinsburg, RE
Arctic. Vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 303-309. 1985.
Cannibalism in polar bears appears to occur as carrion feeding and as attacks by males on small cubs or incapacitated individuals. Direct observations indicate that intraspecific killing and cannibalism occur among polar bears throughout the Arctic.

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