This haunting image prompted such a strong response when it was posted on Instagram last year, that the photographer who captured the picture, Paul Nicklen, returned to the same spot in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago with fellow conservationists two days later, so he could capture the scientific data which supports the bears’ risk of extinction in reality, for people to see.
The photos and videos from this trip, which show a polar bear stranded on iceless land, its white coat dirtied and its body emaciated, garnered a similar social media storm when they were published last week, with viewers expressing their shock, horror and sadness. But it is a sad fact that polar bears have been classified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 2008, and that according to a report issued by federal wildlife officials in January, the biggest threat to survival rates is climate change, however controversial that may be.
Polar bears depend on sea ice as a platform for hunting seals, and as the planet warms, that ice cover melts earlier and earlier, limiting the amount of time they have to hunt and build up their fat reserves before moving to land. As a result, they can end up skinny and in poor physical health by the end of long ice-free summers, and experts and environmentalists broadly agree that in order to curb global warming, present levels of global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced.
According to federal wildlife officials, the polar bear population stands at about 26,000 globally. However, an assessment in 2015 projected a reduction of over 30 per cent in the numbers by 2050. WWF is working alongside leading polar bear scientists and local communities to help protect polar bear populations, and you can donate here to support their efforts. You can also sign the petition to protect the Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska here, which opposes any tax plan that includes oil or gas drilling in the region.
This is the heart-wrenching video captured by Paul Nicklen that was published last week.