Documentary film crew denies spooking walruses who fell to their deaths

by WorldTribune Staff, April 18, 2019

A disturbing scene from the Netflix documentary series “Our Planet” shows several walruses falling to their deaths off a steep cliff in the Bering Strait.

The documentary blamed the horrific event on climate change. David Atten­borough, the narrator of the show, claimed that melting sea ice drove the walruses to the edge of the cliff.

File photo by Joel Garlich-Miller, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Wikimedia Commons

Some observers have not only refuted the claim that climate change was to blame, but say the documentary’s film crew may have been responsible for spooking the walruses, who then fled off the cliff.

Along with its cameras, the film crew was using drones to film the scene.

A U.S. Fisheries spokesman said walruses can flee en masse in response to “the sight, sound and especially odors from humans and machines,” The Australian reported.

“Our Planet” producer Sophie Lanfear denied the crew spooked the walruses.

“When approaching the walruses, we made sure we were downwind of them and that we could not be seen,” she said. “We only stood up when it was safe to do so and when we weren’t at risk of scaring any walruses.”

On her website, zoologist Susan Crockford said that walruses dying from falling from cliffs is not a phenomenon and suggested polar bears likely caused the event.

“The lie being told by Attenborough and the film crew is that 200-300 walruses fell during the time they were filming, while in fact they filmed only a few: polar bears were responsible for the majority of the carcasses shown on the beach below the cliff,” Crockford wrote on her website.

“This is, of course, in addition to the bigger lie that lack of sea ice is to blame for walrus herds being onshore in the first place.”

There was an incident in Russia in 2017 where polar bears were reported to have spooked a herd of walruses, causing them to fall off a cliff to their deaths. Crockford believes this is the event that was filmed by the documentary crew.

“The film crew have steadfastly refused to reveal precisely where and when they filmed the walrus deaths shown in this film in relation to the walrus deaths initiated by polar bears reported by The Siberian Times in the fall of 2017,” Crockford said.

Lanfear refuted these claims on Twitter, saying “bears were not driving them off the cliffs” during the filming.

“It is ironic that activists have long insisted that polar bears are endangered by loss of ice caused by human-caused climate change,” Crockford wrote. “In fact both polar bear and walrus populations have increased dramatically in recent decades due largely to restrictions on hunting. The Inuit government of the northern Canadian territory Nunavut recently received a report from their committee stating that polar bears are now overpopulated in the Arctic.”

Crockford continued: “It is galling that David Attenborough often finds multiple opportunities in his narrative to blame human-caused climate change for situations that are perfectly natural. Even if there were no polar bears involved it would not be justified to blame falling walruses on climate change.

“It is shocking enough to present such a gruesome incident to the general public without making them feel personally guilty for driving their cars or blame energy companies for CO2 emissions.”

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