THE BLOG
08/02/2011 11:34 am ET Updated Oct 02, 2011

Alaska Bear Attack: Myth-Busting Mainstream Media Inaccuracies

Ten things you could learn from the "lamestream media" about this week's Alaska bear attack -- only to be misinformed:

1. Chicago Tribune: The bear that attacked seven teenagers in a National Outdoor Leadership School class was "massive.''

Fact check: The bear could have been "massive." Then again, maybe not. No one has a carcass to weigh or measure. Eyewitness accounts invariably inflate the size of bears. Anchorage residents have reported "500-pound" black bears on backyard decks that were later revealed to be about the size of Labrador retrievers. The probable size of this grizzly bear, based on Alaska Department Fish and Game data, is anywhere from 250 pounds on the "dainty" side to 750 pounds on the "massive" side. That is a significant margin for error, and size doesn't really matter. It was a small and undernourished grizzly that killed and then ate backpacker Alan Precup in Alaska's Glacier Bay National Monument in 1976.

2. CNN: The NOLS teenagers were mauled "by a brown bear and her cub."

Fact check: This is patently untrue. No one was mauled by a cub. Nor did anyone ever suggest a cub might have been involved in mauling anyone. It isn't even certain there was a cub on the scene.

3. FOX San Francisco affiliate KTVU-TV: The bear was a "mother."

Fact check: This is probable, but the conclusion is based largely on reported behavior of the bear and the characteristics of the attack. Mama grizzlies are known to flatten what they perceive to be a threat to their cub or cubs and then flee. That is what appears to have happened in this case. The Alaska State Troopers did report the mauling involved a sow and a cub, but there was no concrete evidence to back that up. Single male bears have been known to flatten people, too. The reality is that no one knows for sure if this bear was male or female.

4. The Sun: The bear was "guarding its cub" or "cubs."

Fact check: Again, a good guess, but by no means a fact. One of the NOLS backpackers involved in the mauling "believes" he saw a cub. The others did not, although they reported some rustling in the brush. As one authority on bears noted, however, it could be hard to tell who or what was rustling, given all the people scattering and general commotion following the bear charge. The same authority believes that if the teenagers had collected in a group, instead of scattering, the bear might have cut off the attack after knocking the first student down.

5. Associated Press: "Teen survives bear attack by kicking."

Fact check: Victor Martin, one of the teenagers who was party to the mauling, obviously believes this. Tom Smith, a wildlife professor at the University of Utah and an authority on bears, said a human cannot begin to kick hard enough to even come close to the blows bears regularly land on each other in a bear-on-bear fight. The bears keep fighting despite those blows. There is no reason to believe a bear would stop its attack because it was kicked by a teenager. Experts on grizzly bears, in fact, advise playing dead when attacked by a sow grizzly (if this was a sow) because fighting back usually makes the attack worse. Martin also believes the bear that attacked him was "900 pounds," which according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists would make it one of the biggest sows -- if not the biggest sow -- in the Talkeetna Mountains. That is if anyone knew for certain the bear in question was a sow. If it truly was 900 pounds -- and again there is no carcass to weigh -- it most likely would have been a boar and not a sow. And that would call into question all other sorts of hypotheses (see above) about cub attacks and maternal protection. ...

Read the complete story only at Alaska Dispatch.