A gut-wrenching video taken on Canada’s Baffin Island shows an adult polar bear that looks like little more than a bag of bones covered by slack fur. The bear is pulling his body across an iceless emptiness, desperately seeking food.
“This is what climate change looks like,” said the National Geographic article on the bear, which was captured on film by photographer Paul Nicklen last summer as Nicklen traveled with the conservation group Sea Legacy. The bear was spotted checking out trash cans left by Inuit fishermen and pulling out a tidbit or two.
As Nicklen and other photographers filmed the distraught animal, “we stood there crying,” he said.
Normally the bear would have been fattened up on seals the previous winter and would soon be eating more, but the seals are vanishing along with the snow and ice on the islands due to climate change.
Nicklen said that he was unable to help the bear and that it’s illegal in Canada to feed the animals in any case. He said he wanted to film the horror of the once-majestic animal’s demise to show the dramatic effects of climate change. Nicklen said he hopes the images help affect human behavior so that the bear will not have died in vain.
“When scientists say bears are going extinct, I want people to realize what it looks like. Bears are going to starve to death,” said Nicklen. “This is what a starving bear looks like.”
It’s a “soul-crushing scene that still haunts me,” Nicklen wrote in an Instagram post. “But I know we need to share both the beautiful and the heartbreaking if we are going to break down the walls of apathy.”
My entire @Sea_Legacy team was pushing through their tears and emotions while documenting this dying polar bear. It’s a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me, but I know we need to share both the beautiful and the heartbreaking if we are going to break down the walls of apathy. This is what starvation looks like. The muscles atrophy. No energy. It’s a slow, painful death. When scientists say polar bears will be extinct in the next 100 years, I think of the global population of 25,000 bears dying in this manner. There is no band aid solution. There was no saving this individual bear. People think that we can put platforms in the ocean or we can feed the odd starving bear. The simple truth is this—if the Earth continues to warm, we will lose bears and entire polar ecosystems. This large male bear was not old, and he certainly died within hours or days of this moment. But there are solutions. We must reduce our carbon footprint, eat the right food, stop cutting down our forests, and begin putting the Earth—our home—first. Please join us at @sea_legacy as we search for and implement solutions for the oceans and the animals that rely on them—including us humans. Thank you your support in keeping my @sea_legacy team in the field. With @CristinaMittermeier #turningthetide with @Sea_Legacy #bethechange #nature #naturelovers This video is exclusively managed by Caters News. To license or use in a commercial player please contact [email protected] or call +44 121 616 1100 / +1 646 380 1615”
Polar bears are at “ground zero” of the devastation of climbing temperatures and melting ice, and it’s drastically affecting their food sources and their lives. Their ice kingdom is rapidly vanishing, as tracked by the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
A study by the U.S. Geological Survey said that polar bears are being forced to try to “outrun” global warming by moving eastward on an accelerating “treadmill” of remaining sea ice. They must consume more seals to make up for the energy expended. But that won’t last much longer.
“Short of action that effectively addresses the primary cause of diminishing sea ice, it is unlikely that polar bears will be recovered,” said a report early this year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.