Heartbreaking footage of a starving polar bear desperately searching for food on iceless land highlights the “real face of climate change”, conservationists say.
Photojournalist Paul Nicklen said his team were moved to tears as they captured the struggling animal’s battle to stay alive on Canada’s Baffin Island last summer.
The “soul-crushing” scene, captured by marine conservationists SeaLegacy, shows the emaciated bear searching an abandoned Inuit camp for sustenance.
“My entire SeaLegacy team was pushing through their tears and emotions while documenting this dying polar bear,” explained Mr Nicklen.
“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.”
His colleague Cristina Mittermeier said it was “one of the hardest shoots we have ever had to do”.
“Through tears, we were able to capture this footage with the hope of awakening people to the realities of a climate change future,” she said.
“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.”
The group warned an increasing number of polar bears are likely to die in this way “as a result of our warming climate”.
“As global temperatures rise, the amount of multi-year sea ice in the Arctic shrinks. Polar bears depend on that ice to travel large distances and to hunt for their food. Without sea ice this will become a common scene across the Arctic,” they said.