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Walrus Deaths Were Due To Polar Bears – Andrew Montford

April 10, 2019




Andrew Montford has followed up the Netflix walrus porn story, with a damning piece for the Spectator:


Over the weekend, social media and the newspapers were full of stories of Pacific walruses plunging over sea cliffs to their deaths. Heart-wrenching film of the corpses of these magnificent beasts piled up on the shore have been driving many to tears.

This all came about as the result of the latest episode of Our Planet, the new wildlife extravaganza from Netflix. As is normal for such programmes, the story that accompanies the animal eye-candy is told by Sir David Attenborough and, as is positively compulsory, it is spiced with multiple references to the horrors of global warming. In fact, we are told, it is us who should shoulder the blame for the slaughter of the walruses, because shrinking sea ice caused by climate change forces them to haulout – leaving the water to take refuge on the shore instead.

The programme ends with Attenborough directing viewers to a website run by WWF, the co-producers of the series. It is therefore, in essence, an eight-part, multi-million pound fundraiser.

Which is a pity, because there is now considerable evidence emerging that the story is not quite what it seems.

For a start, as the zoologist Susan Crockford has documented for the GWPF, walrus haul out behaviour may not be related to global warming. In her 2014 paper On the Beach, she cites examples as far back as the 1930s, long before global warming. She also explains that there doesn’t appear to be a strong correlation between sea-ice levels and haulout behaviour.

Nor is the phenomenon of walruses falling to their deaths from sea cliffs new. American TV recorded the same phenomenon in 1994 and the New York Times reported 60 deaths in a single incident in 1996. Attempts were made to install a fence at one site, while another employs rangers whose sole job is to keep the walruses away from the cliffs. At the time, scientists explained that the most likely explanation  was overcrowding at the water’s edge.

Crockford thinks that the footage on the Netflix show comes from a well-documented incident that took place in the village of Ryrkaypiy, in eastern Siberia, in October 2017. September and October are the peak period for walrus haulouts, and there are numerous examples, which date back to the 1960s, of the cliff phenomenon taking place on Wrangel Island, a few hundred kilometres to the north.

However in 2017, as the Siberian Times reported, the colony attracted polar bears that frequent – and indeed at the time terrorise – the area. The bears drove several hundred walruses over the cliffs to their deaths, before feasting on the corpses. They continued to frequent the area right through into the winter.

I’ve been able to show that Crockford’s supposition about the geographical origin of the footage is correct: analysis of the rock shapes in the film and in a photo taken by the producer/director both match archive photos of Ryrkaypiy. The photo was taken on 19 September 2017, during the events described by the Siberian Times.

But whereas the Siberian Times and Gizmodo website, which also reported on the 2017 incident, were both quite clear that the walruses were driven over the cliffs by polar bears, Netflix makes no mention of their presence. Similarly, there is no mention of the fact that walrus haulouts are entirely normal. Instead, Attenborough tells his viewers that climate change is forcing the walruses on shore, where their poor eyesight leads them to plunge over the cliffs.

This is all very troubling as it raises the possibility that Netflix and the WWF are, innocently or otherwise, party to a deception of the public. Exactly who was aware of the presence of polar bears remains unclear, but it seems doubtful that no one at the WWF and the production team was unaware. And given that one of the prime objectives of the show seems to have been to raise funds for WWF, that seems… problematic.


This story is now getting legs. Susan Crockford’s brave criticism of the film has now attracted attention in the Telegraph and Mail. This has forced the producers into denying her claims.

However Montford’s research has conclusively showed those denials to be spurious.

  1. cajwbroomhill permalink
    April 10, 2019 11:01 am

    David Attenborough, like the BBC, is well past his sell-by date.

    • April 10, 2019 12:07 pm

      Good one.

    • Henning Nielsen permalink
      April 11, 2019 7:54 am

      He is guily by default. He is 1) old, 2) male, 3) white.

      • Gerry, England permalink
        April 11, 2019 1:39 pm

        but is saved by 4) spouts global warming lies that the BBC love

  2. April 10, 2019 11:15 am

    Pity that a nations wildlife idol, who we had trusted, has been duped into this. He needs to get out from under this stinking morass of lies and admit his mistake, before his reputation is destroyed totally. Which would be a great shame,

    • Derek Buxton permalink
      April 10, 2019 1:23 pm

      I do not think he was duped into it, he is in it up to his eyeballs. It is said he has a Degree in Geology, in which case there is no way he could back “GlobalWarming” and not know that the Climate changes all by itself over time.

      • dave permalink
        April 12, 2019 11:19 am

        “It is said he has a degree…”

        I am not sure that he DOES have an earned degree. Wikipedia says he won a scholarship to Clare College in 1945 where he studied geology and zoology, but in 1947 he was called up to serve in the Navy. It says nothing about returning to Cambridge. I know there were some special arrangements at that time for servicemen but I do not believe the requirement to spend nine terms in residence (three years) for a first degree was waived. It sounds as if he was a drop-out.

        As for his dogged fanaticism, it seems he got his start from attending a lecture in 1936 by “Grey Owl” (a.k.a. Archie Blamey of Hastings, East Sussex), the imposter who pretended to be a wise Canadian Indian Chief. Learning from such a source reminds me of the following:

        “Wherefore…the best ought to be learned at once and also from the best masters. For what is more foolish than with great pains to learn something which afterward you will be compelled with greater pains to unlearn? Nothing moreover is more easily learned than that which is right and true. But bad things, if once they stick in the mind, it is wonderful to tell how hardly they can be torn out.”


        I would only demur from this by changing “Nothing moreover is more easily learned than that which is right and true.”


        “UNFORTUNATELY, nothing is more easily learned than that which APPEARS TO BE right and true.

      • April 15, 2019 3:55 pm

        Let us hope that the crew did not themselves panic the walruses, either carelessly, or, because “‘The Cause’ demands sacrifices”.

    • Joe Public permalink
      April 10, 2019 1:34 pm

      “Pity that a nations wildlife idol, who we had trusted …. ”

      Attenborough has form:

    • Eoin mc permalink
      April 10, 2019 5:01 pm

      Peter. What makes you think Attenborough was, as you put it, duped into this, his latest, bogus emotional climate porn? He has long since past been unable to realise that his previous exalted and iconic reputation has been ruined by his deliberate twisting of the role humans are supposedly playing and will play into the near future in changing the climate. We are now at Peak Hype. There is no longer any scope for thinking that alarmists are being duped or are acting with honest and good intention. Regards. Eoin

  3. Phoenix44 permalink
    April 10, 2019 11:37 am

    Everything is true if it leads to the right outcome…

  4. Jules permalink
    April 10, 2019 11:46 am

    The WWF lost its direction years ago. I would not give them a penny.

    • matthew dalby permalink
      April 14, 2019 1:26 am

      You’re not wrong. See for example this article. Why the hell is WWF, which is meant to care about wildlife, funding research into the effects of the weather (sorry climate change) on farmers? Seems like they have just become another political campaign group.
      The story is about how last year’s beast from the east and heatwave caused massive losses for Scottish farmers. As has been shown more than once by Paul (and numerous others) these were weather events that were in no way unprecedented and nothing to do with climate change. There are a lot species that are endangered for a host of reasons that have nothing to do with climate change, why doesn’t WWF focus on these? It seems like it is now almost impossible to be an environmentalist/environmental charity without focusing on climate change as the root of all evil. I almost wish I was a member of WWF so I could cancel my membership and tell them why I no longer support their politics and betrayal of their founding principles.

  5. Malcolm Bell permalink
    April 10, 2019 11:48 am

    Global warming is the new religion. Every religion needs its myths.
    That justifies Phoenix44’s statement
    that “everything is true if it leads to the right outcome”. This is the foundation of every dictatorship.

    We must seek the truth – and only the truth. How else will we know what is the right outcome?

  6. April 10, 2019 11:59 am

    ED YONG APR 8, 2019 in The Atlantic article directly contradicts

    Why would a walrus? Polar bears weren’t harassing them.
    The camera crews were filming from afar so their scents and sounds wouldn’t spook the skittish animals.
    Then why? What were walruses even doing on cliff tops in the first place? Our Planet offers a clear answer.
    “This is the sad reality of climate change,” Lanfear told me.
    “They’d be on the ice if they could.”

    There are no open comments
    but now there is Dissenter from Gab
    Crockford tweeted about it

  7. It doesn't add up... permalink
    April 10, 2019 12:07 pm

    The very name of the place translates from Chukchi as “walrus place”. It has been a haulout site since man wandered in with reindeer herds.

  8. April 10, 2019 12:09 pm

    A previous post from Ed Yong
    \\ it’s more important than ever for those issuing warnings about the planet’s fate to be precise about what they mean.
    Characterizing the problem, and its scope, correctly matters.
    If accuracy can be ignored for the sake of a gut punch, we might as well pull random numbers out of the ether.//

    • April 10, 2019 12:25 pm

      “we might as well pull random numbers out of the ether”

      Thats what they’ve done for years

      • dearieme permalink
        April 10, 2019 2:37 pm

        Ether? Isn’t it usually spelled “arse”?

  9. MrGrimNasty permalink
    April 10, 2019 2:32 pm

    I think the most obvious explanation – it’s just one of nature’s bizarre events – comes from a youtube video posted on the Jo Nova thread on this topic, exactly the same thing was happening in 1996. Of course back then the climate obsession was not a thing.

    It was also reported in newspapers in 1996.

    “Biologists say the walruses’ bizarre behavior does not threaten the survival of the species; they are part of a bachelor herd of 12,500 that gathers in the summer on Magpie Beach. Bruce Batten of the Fish and Wildlife Service says it is the largest concentration of walruses on the mainland of North America.”

    “Valued for their ivory, blubber and hides, walruses became nearly extinct in the 1950’s. But the United States, Canada and the former Soviet Union began to prohibit walrus hunting except by native people, and by the 1980’s the walrus population had rebounded to 200,000 and they had recolonized Magpie Beach.”

    From that we can deduce that the haul-out here is nothing new/unusual – clearly not climate related. The beach crowding is due to the success of the hunting ban, perhaps verging on over-population.

    The same article goes on to explain that the ‘suicide’ behaviour is relatively recent and discuss possible reasons. To me it’s obvious that it is just an unfortunate effect of the local geography – the Walruses have a herd mentality and access to a gentle slope that ends at a cliff! Until recently there may have been a physical barrier that prevented them leaving the beach that eroded away, or it may just be that over-crowding is forcing them to explore.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      April 10, 2019 2:43 pm

      Forgot to add, male numbers aren’t as important to species survival, a male’s harem can be 20+ females.

      • dave permalink
        April 12, 2019 11:24 am

        “…a male’s harem can be 20+ females.”

        Probably, not as much fun as it sounds.

        Imagine having to say, “Yes, dear” to that many human females, all talking at the same time.

  10. Vernon E permalink
    April 10, 2019 2:48 pm

    The denial of Crockford’s version published in the Telegraph by the producers, claiming to be present at the incident, is detailed and specific (no polar bears in the vicinity) so somebody has got the story horribly wrong or is lying. In either case further investigation is called for – these disputative claims relating to climate change cannot just to go on and on un-challenged.

  11. Dave Ward permalink
    April 10, 2019 2:52 pm

    “The possibility that Netflix and the WWF are, innocently or otherwise, party to a deception of the public”

    Netflix may have been duped, but WWF almost certainly knew what was going on. Deception to scare the public keeps the donations flowing in…

  12. HotScot permalink
    April 10, 2019 2:58 pm

    WWF Funds Guards Who Have Tortured And Killed People

    Down the road from the crocodile ponds inside Nepal’s renowned Chitwan National Park, in a small clearing shaded by sala trees, sits a jail. Hira Chaudhary went there one summer night with boiled green maize and chicken for her husband, Shikharam, a farmer who had been locked up for two days.

    Shikharam was in too much pain to swallow. He crawled toward Hira, his thin body covered in bruises, and told her through sobs that forest rangers were torturing him. “They beat him mercilessly and put saltwater in his nose and mouth,” Hira later told police.

    The rangers believed that Shikharam helped his son bury a rhinoceros horn in his backyard. They couldn’t find the horn, but they threw Shikharam in their jail anyway, court documents filed by the prosecution show.

    Nine days later, he was dead.

    A long and detailed report.

    • mikewaite permalink
      April 10, 2019 5:40 pm

      And this from the Guardian last week

      _”Britain’s charity regulator has launched a formal investigation into the World Wide Fund for Nature, following allegations the conservation group is implicated in human rights abuses against people in Africa and Asia.
      The inquiry by the Charity Commission will assess whether WWF’s UK arm followed “due diligence” in ensuring that money sent abroad did not contribute to abuse.
      “Following reports relating to World Wide Fund for Nature International, we opened a regulatory compliance case,” said a Charity Commission spokesperson.
      WWF is also facing calls from German MPs for a halt to millions of euros of German funding to Salonga national park, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, over allegations of abuses including gang rape, murder and torture of local people by eco-guards funded and equipped by the conservation organisation.
      Salonga, which is co-managed by WWF, has received €5.4m (£4.6m) from the German development bank KfW.”-

      This collaboration with WWF is not doing the reputation of Attenborough, the BBC or Netflix any good at all. Can they not see that?

      • Gerry, England permalink
        April 11, 2019 1:47 pm

        The first two can go hang but Netflix is a company with shareholders and in competiton with the likes of Amazon Prime, Now tv etc for subscribers. This series could damage their brand. They probably truly believed that WWF were honest people, but as we know….

  13. John F. Hultquist permalink
    April 10, 2019 3:08 pm

    Make sure young ladies learn of this. They can use Susan as a role model.

  14. April 10, 2019 3:26 pm

    Walrus monitoring in Alaska:

    There are five walrus haulouts at Cape Peirce: Odobenus Cove, South Firebaugh, North Firebaugh, Parlier Beach, and Maggy Beach. From field observations it seems that when walrus arrive at Cape Peirce, they begin using Odobenus Cove, South Firebaugh, and North Firebaugh.

    These beaches are protected from potential predators by high, rocky cliffs. When these beaches “fill up” they begin using Maggy Beach, a large, sandy, exposed beach. A greater number of walrus can haulout at Maggy Beach than all other beaches combined.

    Each year, disturbances to walrus at the Cape Peirce haulouts occur. People, aircraft, boats, and unknown factors cause these disturbances. Walrus may leave their haulouts or otherwise alter their behavior when disturbed.

    Pacific walrus rest on shore –
    Point Lay, Alaska, near Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge /USFWS

  15. April 10, 2019 3:52 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

  16. Christopher Lynch Lynch permalink
    April 10, 2019 5:20 pm

    Read the denials in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph article they came across as BS then. In light of de Montfort’s article they are clearly deliberate and calculated lies. It begs the question if “the science is settled” why would those supporting that “scientific” position need to falsify and lie?

  17. 2hmp permalink
    April 10, 2019 5:27 pm

    David Attenborough must surely be aware that he is being asked to tell lies. Why does he persist. It will destroy his reputation.

  18. Philip Walling permalink
    April 10, 2019 5:40 pm

    This has echoes of harm the ‘Hitler Diaries’ did toe Hugh Trevor Roper.
    Silly old Attenborough.

  19. Coeur de Lion permalink
    April 10, 2019 6:35 pm

    But surely the Arctic Ice isn’t disappearing. Stable third week in September for 12 years. Such a pity that satellite view started in 1979 and not 1935.
    There’s a note of desperation about.

  20. April 10, 2019 10:30 pm

    Website TMZ says the series has been dropped by Netflix.

    • April 10, 2019 11:31 pm

      @OldBrew you’re not down with the kids grandad
      Netfix “dropped” the series onto their server on Friday
      , so its customers can now watch the whole series
      Your link is merely a copy of the TMZ story i posted earlier above.

      • April 10, 2019 11:54 pm

        My error I posted the TMZ story somewhere, but not in this thread

  21. April 11, 2019 12:05 am

    I note on April 6th BBC ran a story where Will Gompertz reviewed the Netflix series
    ..He didn’t mention walruses or polar bears

  22. April 11, 2019 12:30 am

    BTW are we sure the film crew were NOT in a helicopter that was scaring the walrus off a the cliff ?

  23. MrGrimNasty permalink
    April 13, 2019 8:34 pm

    In this video: at about 18s is an aerial shout that could only have been taken with a helicopter or drone – highly irresponsible if as they say in the main documentary walruses are easily panicked into ‘stampedes’.

    In this video: from about 22s you can see there is lots of ice covered unoccupied land in the background.

    Why do they herd together like this in one location? Whatever the reason it is clearly not climate change forcing them to do it. Even if you take the obviously false (from historical accounts as early as 1930s) assertion that they are only using land because of a lack of sea ice, it is only the unique geography in this one location that is causing an issue. Why do they do it? Why does a squirrel climb over a mountain of dead ‘friends’ to get to a nut feeder and not understand that it is about to die – because they are dumb animals.

    These mass suicides were reported in 1994 and 1996 – this predates any significant summer sea ice decline – indeed both summers had high minimum extents.

    The main documentary says there are 100,000+ walruses here alone, in the 1950s they were seriously endangered – surely this is an amazing conservation success story?

  24. MrGrimNasty permalink
    April 13, 2019 8:49 pm

    More interesting details in this old report:

    Click to access pacific_walrus_boom_bust.pdf

    It refers to giving special protection to coastal hauling grounds.

    It also mentions that the easily accessible herds of males were hunted hard, as opposed to the females and sub-adults that stayed in the pack-ice.

    This all adds up to a picture where it is normal for the male herds to avoid sea ice and haul up on land in summer.

    It also suggests that there is a limit to how many walruses the clam beds can support and at times this has been exceeded – so just how many do we really want/need?


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