German photographer Kerstin Langenberger posted this photo of a gaunt female polar bear to her Facebook page last month. She’s been photographing polar bears in the Svalbard, Norway, region of the Arctic Ocean, and has noticed that the mother bears, who have to stay on land to give birth, are much thinner than the male polar bears who can spend the entire year out on the pack ice, where there’s more food to hunt.
“Many times I have seen horribly thin bears, and those were exclusively females — like this one here. A mere skeleton, hurt on her front leg, possibly by a desperate attempt to hunt a walrus while she was stuck on land.”
Last year, National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen photographed a dead polar bear in the same region. And he says it wasn’t the only one spotted that day.
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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
“As someone who spent 14 consecutive seasons out on the sea ice, and who has focused on Arctic work for nearly 20 years now, it was rare to see reports of dead bears in the wild in the ’80s and ’90s. … That seems to be changing in some regions and merits close monitoring.”
That same sentiment was repeated by Ian Stirling, who has studied polar bears for 40 years at the University of Alberta, and is an ecotourism guide in Svalbard. However, Stirling cautions that without biological testing, we can’t be sure these bears are dying because of starvation, or something else. He told Mashable:
“You have to be a little bit careful about drawing conclusions immediately. [The bear] may be starving, but it may just be old. A difficulty hunting could be involved.”
Despite uncertainty whether the bears died of disease, old age or injury, or were starved to death, polar bears are listed as threatened and vulnerable on the Endangered Species Act and the IUCN Red List. Predictions of an ice-free Arctic region in the next 50 years cannot possibly be a good thing for wildlife in the Arctic. (Via Mashable)
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