Heartbreaking image of skeletal polar bear sparks global warming debate

By Kirstin Buick
15 September 2015

A photograph of a gaunt polar bear in Norway's Svalbard region has been shared thousands of times on social media, after being posted by photographer Kerstin Langenberger.

Capture

The nature photographer shared the photo of the starved animal on Facebook on 20 August, and it's since been shared over 40 000 times.

In the post, Langenberger lamented the plight of the polar bear and the region in general.

"For tourists and wildlife photographers, the main reason to come to Svalbard is to see polar bears," she wrote. "And yes, usually we find them: beautiful bears, photogenic bears, playfull or even at a kill.

'I don’t think you can tie that one to starvation because of lack of sea ice'

"At first glance, everything is as it has always been in one of the most easily accessible polar bear populations of the world, strongly protected and doing good, so some scientists say. But are they really doing good, the bears up here?"

She goes on to explain how she has experienced the environment changing with every visit to the region, including "glaciers... retreating dozens to hundreds of metres every year" and "the pack ice disappearing in record speed."

She also details how he has rarely seen healthy female polar bears with healthy cubs.

"Many times I have seen horribly thin bears, and those were exclusively females - like this one here. A mere skeleton, hurt on her front leg, possibly by a desperate attempt to hunt a walrus while she was stuck on land."

However, Ian Stirling, an adjunct professor at the University of Alberta who has studied polar bears for four decades, says this bear's condition was probably not caused by climate change.

"You have to be a little bit careful about drawing conclusions immediately," Stirling told Mashable. “[The bear] may be starving, but it may just be old.”

"A difficulty hunting could be involved,” he said, adding that the bear appears to have be injured, which could have played a role in its weight loss.

“I don’t think you can tie that one to starvation because of lack of sea ice.”

Regardless, Stirling acknowledges ice loss has been particularly serious in recent years in northwestern Svalbard, which is depriving polar bears of their habitat and prey. He also works as an ecotourism guide, and has seen more and more underfed bears coming ashore. Another photographer Paul Nicklen highlighted the plight after he shared a photograph of a dead polar bear, which he took in Svalbard last year. The National Geographic photographer wrote in his caption that he and his group did not find any bears alive. Stirling told Mashable that the bear in Nicklen's photo most likely died as a result of starvation related to the melting sea ice. “You can’t say 100% that it starved to death, but that’s probably what happened."

Last summer I traveled with a group of friends to Svalbard, Norway in search of polar bears. We went to my favorite spot where I have always been able to find bears roaming around on sea ice throughout the summer. On this occasion, however, we didn't find any sea ice and we never found any bears alive. We did find two dead bears in this location and other groups found more dead bears. These bears were so skinny, they appeared to have died of starvation, as in the absence of sea ice, they were not able to hunt seals. In all of my years of growing up in the Arctic and later, working as a biologist, I had never found a dead polar bear. It is now becoming much more common. Through @sea_legacy and @natgeo we will continue to shine a light on our changing planet to convince the unconvinced. Please follow me on @paulnicklen to learn more about the effects of climate change. #polarbear #nature #wildlife #arctic #seaice @thephotosociety

A photo posted by Paul Nicklen (@paulnicklen) on

Source: Mashable, The Mirror, The Metro

Find Love!

Men
Women