A video released this week of an extremely emaciated polar bear has taken the internet by storm, renewing heated debate over climate change and its effects on the environment.
The video “shows the polar bear clinging to life, its white hair limply covering its thin, bony frame,” writes National Geographic.
One of the bear’s back legs drags behind it as it walks, likely due to muscle atrophy. Looking for food, the polar bear finds nothing and resignedly collapses back down onto the ground.
Photographer Paul Nicklen, who witnessed the agonizing end of the animal’s life, told National Geographic: "We stood there crying — filming with tears rolling down our cheeks."
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@example.com or call +44 121 616 1100 / +1 646 380 1615”
Although he has seen more than 3,000 bears in the wild over the course of his biologist and wildlife photography careers, Nicklen had never seen anything like this particular polar bear. “The emaciated polar bear […] was one of the most gut-wrenching sights he’s ever seen.”
"When scientists say bears are going extinct, I want people to realize what it looks like. Bears are going to starve to death. This is what a starving bear looks like," Nicklen added.
Photo by @CristinaMittermeier // This is what a starving polar bear looks like. Weak muscles, atrophied by extended starvation could barely hold him up. Our @Sea_Legacy team watched as he painfully staggered towards the abandoned fishing camp from which we were observing@and found some trash to eat—a piece of foam from the seat of a snowmobile, as we later found out. People have asked why we couldn’t help it, why we didn’t feed it. In addition to being illegal to feed wildlife, polar bears like this one need several hundred pounds of meat to survive. They primarily eat seals and they struggle when they are stranded for long periods of time on land, without a sea ice platform from which to hunt. We didn’t have a weapon and we didn’t have any food for it. There literally was nothing we could do for him as we were hundreds of miles from the nearest Inuit community. What could we have done? What we did do was push through our tears knowing that this footage was going to help connect a global audience to the biggest issue facing us as a species today. It is true that we don’t know what caused this animal to starve but we are certain that unless we curb carbon emissions, sea ice will continue to disappear and many more bears will starve. With these images, we want to wake the world up to the imminence of climate change and to how it will affect wildlife and people for decades to come. For solutions on how each and everyone can make a positive impact on this planet #follow me at @CristinaMittermeier or go to @Sea_Legacy. #nature #naturelovers #bethechange #FaceofClimateChange #StopFossilFuels #NoArcticDrilling #TurningtheTide with @SeaLegacy. With @PaulNicklen and our entire team. Thank you @natgeo for helping us try and reach the world.
Posting the clip on Facebook, Nicklen wrote: "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."
The World Wildlife Fund reported back in 2002 that climate change could cause the eventual endangerment and extinction of the polar bear. This year, the U.S. Geological Survey followed up by confirming that melting sea ice poses an existential threat to polar bears.