Photographer Kerstin Lagenberger snapped the above photo in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago located in the Arctic Ocean.
Needless to say, it’s both shocking and heartbreaking.
It shows a starving female polar bear.
Lagenberger posted the image on her Facebook page to draw attention to the fact that the population of polar bears in Svalbard is not as stable as experts have suggested. The photo has been shared and commented on thousands of times.
Well, here comes my question: how can a population be stable if it consist of less and less females and cubs? How can a population be doing good if most bears will score a body index of 2-3 out of 5? I see the glaciers calving, retreating dozens to hundreds of meters every year. I see the pack ice disappearing in record speed. Yes, I have seen bears in good shape – but I have also seen dead and starving polar bears. Bears walking on the shores, looking for food, bears trying to hunt reindeer, eating birds’ eggs, moss and seaweed. And I realised that the fat bears are nearly exclusively males which stay on the pack ice all year long. The females, on the other hand, which den on land to give birth to their young, are often slim. With the pack ice retreating further and further north every year, they tend to be stuck on land where there’s not much food.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) currently lists polar bears as “vulnerable” since their numbers have allegedly reduced by more than 30 percent in the last 45 years. There are only 20,000 to 25,000 polar bear thought to remain on Earth.
And this isn’t the first report of emaciated or dead bears being discovered in the region.
National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen was shocked during a recent trip to Svalbard when he noticed the rapidly shrinking sea ice and the number of polar bear corpses. He had visited the Arctic on numerous occasions, but this was the first time he had ever seen anything so devastating.
The bear featured in the picture below was nothing more than skin and bones.
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
In the past year, climate change has reduced ice in the Arctic to such record lows that animals have been forced to travel further to find food sources.
Douglas Richardson, head of living collections at the Highland Wildlife Park, said that ice loss due to climate change is “absolutely, categorically and without question” the main reason polar bear populations are plummeting.