The rapid decline of the polar bear population is a result of climate change
“Soul-crushing scene.” Those are the words biologist and National Geographic contributor Paul Nicklen used to describe his latest video documentation of a starving polar bear. Nicklen is also the co-founder of Sea Legacy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating healthy and abundant oceans.
In the video, an emaciated polar bear is seen searching for food throughout a Canadian territory in the Arctic Circle. He’s near-death. It is, in a word, heartbreaking to watch.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44 121 616 1100 / +1 646 380 1615”
“My entire Sea Legacy team was pushing through their tears and emotions while documenting this dying polar bear,” Nicklen writes in the caption. “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.”
The video itself has quickly gone viral all over the internet — first gaining millions of views on Instagram and even more on Twitter. Nicklen hopes people will be inspired to support his organization in finding solutions to problems like this within our oceans “and the animals that rely on them.”
“This is what starvation looks like,” he writes. “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.”
Photo by @cristinamittermeier // A few months ago, @PaulNicklen and I documented this heartwrenching scene we posted yesterday—a starving polar bear roaming through an abandoned Inuit camp along the shores of Baffin Island. Though it wasn’t possible for scientists to tell us exactly what had caused this bear to starve to death, we do know that he didn’t have any visible wounds and that he was not an old bear. Many of you have asked whether we could have saved this individual bear, but the hard truth is that he was on his last legs and his muscles had atrophied beyond repair. It would also have been illegal to feed him, to approach him, or to do anything to ease his pain. However, there is hope for the remaining polar bears if we want it. Click the link in our bio to learn more about the solutions available to achieve drawdown—the point where global warming reverses.
Simply feeding bears who are this dire isn’t a solution, unfortunately. Not only is it illegal to approach or feed polar bears, according to Sea Legacy, but this individual bear was “on his last legs and his muscles had atrophied beyond repair.”
Nicklen told National Geographic he hadn’t ever seen a bear in such awful condition before. “We stood there crying — filming with tears rolling down our cheeks,” he said. The group he was with had no raw meat or tranquilizers to assist the bear in any way, even if they had been legally allowed to intervene.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated incident. Earlier this fall, a “catastrophic” penguin breeding season lead to thousands of unhatched eggs and dead chicks in Antarctica. Climate change is affecting our wildlife practically beyond repair — the penguin incident occurred, in part, because of a larger than normal amount of sea ice late in the season.
Photo by @DaisyGilardini // Wapusk National Park in Manitoba, Canada is the southernmost denning area for polar bears. Every year from February to March, polar bears who entered maternity dens in October and gave birth in November are ready to emerge for the first time alongside their four-month-old cubs. The timing coincides with seals giving birth to their pups on the Hudson Bay pack ice, which means easy food for the polar bears. Follow me at @daisygilardini to see more. #TurningTheTide #polarbear #wapusknationalpark
According to The Washington Post, polar bears in particular are in danger due to climate change. Melting sea ice means they’re losing more and more of their habitat as temperatures continue to rise. The population of approximately 25,000 polar bears worldwide are predicted to decline by about a third in the next few decades. Without proper hunting and breeding grounds, the bears are at risk of starvation.
“There is no band aid solution,” Nicklen writes. “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.”
The dance we do when we speak about climate change is exhausting. Some people will simply never believe, despite irrefutable scientific evidence, bizarre weather events, and unprecedented natural disasters. So, as we head into holidays—where many of us will find ourselves debating with loved ones about important topics like climate change—do yourself a favour and search “global temperatures over the past 100 years.” Find one of the innumerable graphs and studies that show the consistent rise in temperature, download it to your phone, and share it with deniers. Most importantly, do not fight with these people. Kill them with kindness, intelligence, patience and empathy. The climate change crisis is urgent and important, but we must treat each other with respect.