explainer

Why the disturbing walrus scene in David Attenborough's Our Planet is being called a 'lie'.

Walruses have become the new symbol of climate change, courtesy of David Attenborough’s new Netflix documentary series Our Planet. The second episode aired vision of the hulking mammals jammed on a remote Russian coastline due to lack of sea ice on which to rest, the crowded conditions sending dozens tumbling to their deaths over a cliff’s edge.

The sight of walruses falling through the air, of their bloodied bodies littering the rocks below, stirred controversy due to its graphic nature.

But now there’s another debate. This time, over claims the entire scene was a lie.

In a scathing blog post being quoted by various media, zoologist Susan Crockford, adjunct assistant professor at the University of Victoria in Canada, described the scene, filmed in northeast Russia, as “tragedy porn” and “contrived nonsense”.

“The walruses shown in this Netflix film were almost certainly driven over the cliff by polar bears during a well-publicised incident in 2017, not because they were ‘confused by a combination of shrinking ice cover and their own poor eyesight,'” she wrote.

She pointed to a Siberian Times news article that refers to an event in the region of Ryrkaypiy, Russia, around the time the footage was recorded, in which a group of about 20 polar bears reportedly “stalked a herd of 5,000 or so walruses” and drove them over cliffs so they could feed on carcasses below.

But there’s an important point to know before buying into her argument: Crockford is a climate-change denier. That is, she doesn’t agree that humans are responsible for driving global warming.

Mamamia OutLoud discuss the climate change tragedy happening right on Australia’s doorstep. Post continues after audio.

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In fact, she’s a signatory of the International Conference on Climate Change’s 2008 Manhattan Declaration, which states that “Carbon dioxide and other ‘greenhouse gas’ emissions from human activity… appear to have only a very small impact on global climate”. Oh, and also that “global cooling has presented serious problems for human society and the environment throughout history, while global warming has generally been highly beneficial.” (Yeah. Wow.)

Her polar bear argument has been spread widely by like-minded people in an attempt to discredit the series. But Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change wrote for the London School of Economics website, it’s little more than a “daft conspiracy theory”: “This attempt by climate change deniers to confuse the public with false propaganda about Our Planet is an obvious act of desperation. The public trusts Sir David Attenborough far more than it trusts the deniers, and the deniers know it.”

The episode’s producer, Sophie Lanfear, has also slammed Crockford’s claims.

“They were not being driven off the cliffs by the polar bears, and we know this because we had two team members watching the cliffs from afar who could see the polar bears and were in radio communications with us to warn us about any bears approaching the crew closer to the walrus and the cliffs,” she told The Telegraph.

“Fundamentally, the reason walrus used this haulout location is because of a lack of sea ice in the region, meaning they are coming ashore more frequently than they did in the past. Especially mothers with their pups. And at this particular site, once the beach below the cliffs was full, they spread out and up the cliffs and were unable to find their way safely down, with tragic consequences.”

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