In the past week, a couple of photos have gone viral showing two polar bears like you’ve never seen them before.
In one, a bear lies dead over a pile of rocks in Svalbard, Norway. The once magnificent animal’s lifeless body appears to be completely emaciated. This photo, along with another of a bear who fortunately hasn’t met the same fate yet, went viral this week on social media – and many are saying it’s proof that global warming is destroying the planet.
The second image was captured by Kerstin Langenberger, who spotted one incredibly thin bear on the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard. She later posted the photo online with a message underneath, and received an overwhelming reaction from the public. A reaction that is becoming more and more common as we learn more about global warming and what it’s slowly doing to our planet.
The facts are this: while we don’t know for sure that the bears in these photos are dying because of global warming (they could just be sick/old), rapid sea ice loss is ruining their natural habitat, since they depend on the ice to hunt.
Speaking about Paul Nicklen’s photo of the dead bear, Ian Stirling, of the University of Alberta who has studied polar bears for four decades said: “You can’t say 100 per cent that it starved to death, but that’s probably what happened. It certainly looks to me like it has starved to death.”
In the above photo, which was taken back in 2014, Nicklen described how this was just one of several bears he had discovered dead in Svalbard. “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,” he wrote.
It’s worth noting that the bear photographed by Kerstin was ‘most likely an older, sick or injured bear, and was not likely suffering from a lack of ice cover and available prey,’ she told Mashable.
But this doesn’t mean what is happening in the Arctic isn’t an important issue. While we don’t have statistics on paper regarding how many polar bears are dying from starvation and an inability to hunt food in their habitat, it is quite obvious that this is exactly what is happening.
These photos serve as a reminder that sea levels are rising, and it’s already too late for many bears.
The Endangered Species Act now lists polar bears in the U.S. Arctic as a threatened species, with Arctic polar bears down as ‘vulnerable‘ because of sea ice loss trends. It’s predicted that the Arctic ocean will be practically ice-free by the middle of this century.