A photo of a sickly and skinny polar bear in Svalbard, Norway has gone viral, as tragedy unfolds in the Arctic. The shocking image of the starving polar bear was shot by photographer Kerstin Langenberger off the Barents Sea on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Unfortunately, this bear is not an isolated exception. “Yes, I have seen bears in good shape – but I have also seen dead and starving polar bears,” Langenberger said on her Facebook page.
Researchers who monitor this area have observed a dramatic loss of sea ice because of global climate change. Geoff York, senior director of conservation for Polar Bears International, has been studying the Arctic and observing this area for 14 years. “Reports and images of thin or dead adult bears from the Barents Sea region of late are concerning,” York told Discovery. “We expect that there will be more bad years [for polar bears] as the Arctic warms and sea ice habitat is reduced over time.”
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Polar bears are not the only animals to be affected by the melting sea ice and warming water temperatures. Walruses, who usually “haul out” on sea ice, have been spotted gathering on land in Northwest Alaska instead. Beluga, Bowhead and killer whales have all begun to change their patterns because of lack of sea ice. White-beaked dolphins have been forced to venture further north seeking after sea ice.
Echoing scientists’ demands for dramatic reduction in greenhouse gasses worldwide, Langenberger called for action on her Facebook post. “Let’s do something about the biggest threat of our time,” she said. “Maybe we cannot save this bear here. But every little action we do to change our ways is a step in the right direction. We just have to get started and keep on going!”
Lead images via Kerstin Langenberger / Facebook, jumping polar bear via Arturo de Frias Marques, polar bear family via Susanne Miller, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service