Delingpole: Walrusgate – Attenborough Nature Doc Accused of Fake News ‘Tragedy Porn’

A young walrus sits in its enclosure during its first visit of the outdoor area at the Hagenbeck zoo in Hamburg, northern Germany, on August 3, 2018. (Photo by Daniel Reinhardt / dpa / AFP) / Germany OUT (Photo credit should read DANIEL REINHARDT/AFP/Getty Images)
DANIEL REINHARDT/AFP/Getty
JAMES DELINGPOLE

Sir David Attenborough, doyen of wildlife TV, has been accused of manufacturing ‘tragedy porn’ after misrepresenting footage of walruses plunging to their deaths over a cliff on his Netflix latest nature series Our Planet.

The show’s footage of ‘desperate’ walruses clinging to the cliff top before tumbling hundreds of feet onto the rocks below attracted widespread publicity . The Times of London ran it with the dramatic headline: “David Attenborough’s Our Planet: Walruses plunging to deaths become new symbol of climate change.”

The moving scenes prompted a mass outbreak of sobbing and hysteria on social media.

According to Attenborough’s whispery voiceover, trembling with emotion, the cause of the walruses’ tragic deaths was the decline of their sea ice hunting grounds caused — of course! — by global warming.

For further details, he advises at the end, viewers should contact the show’s partners the WWF.

Attenborough claims in his voiceover that the walruses are driven to climb the rocks “out of desperation not choice.”

He continues:

Their natural home is out on the sea ice, but the ice has retreated away to the north and this is the closest place to their feeding grounds.

Every square inch is occupied, climbing over the tightly packed bodies is the only way across the crowd — those beneath can get crushed to death.

In a desperate bid to avoid the crush, they try to head towards the cliffs.

A walrus’s eyesight out of the water is poor. But they can sense the others down below. As they get hungry, they need to return to the sea.

In their desperation to do so, hundreds fall from heights they should never have scaled.

Very moving, but also completely untrue. The more likely explanation is that the walruses were driven to their deaths by polar bears — which herded them over the cliff and then feasted on the bodies afterwards.

This incident, which was recorded in 2017 in village of Ryrkaypiy, in eastern Siberia, was well-documented at the time.

According to polar bear expert Susan Crockford:

In 2017, a group of about 20 polar bears, waiting for ice to form so that they could leave the village of Ryrkaypiy, stalked a herd of 5,000 or so walruses. The particular conformation of the region at Kozhevnikova Cape shows how frightened walrus could easily move from the beach  to the top of the cliff along a gentle slope, and then be driven over the edge by fear or misstep. The bears were then able to feed off the many carcasses after the survivors took to the water.

According to Andrew Montford in the Spectator, the Our Planet footage was almost certainly shot in this region at this time:

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.

This is far from the only misrepresentation of the facts in this tendentious, manipulative series. As Paul Homewood has also noticed, the series is little more than a propaganda exercise for its WWF partners and is riddled with dubious claims and factual errors.

Not for the first time, Sir David Attenborough has been caught green-handed, squandering his prestige and his “national treasure” status by misleading viewers, mispresenting the facts in order to scare his audience with alarmist environmentalist propaganda.

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