Conservationist Paul Nicklen recorded this devastating video of a polar bear struggling to survive in a warming Arctic – and Nicklen says it’s so wrenching that “it rips your heart out of your chest.” Nicklen hopes to motivate action to save the bears and their polar climate. If that fails, he hopes to at least document this tragic ecological period. “When scientists say bears are going extinct, I want people to realize what it looks like,” said Nicklen in an interview with National Geographic. “This is what a starving bear looks like.”

Polar bears require solid sea ice to hunt its most essential prey, seals. If there is no sea ice, the bears have nothing to stand upon as they hunt for the mostly aquatic mammals. Polar bears are adapted for a food-free season of 3 to 4 months, the period during which the sea ice has historically melted in the Arctic. However, as climate change has extended the ice-free period in the Arctic, polar bears have suffered. Although the bears are not currently considered an endangered species, they are threatened and may slip into endangered status if their population continues to decline.

Related: “You had to live it to believe it” – hundreds of polar bears rush to feast on one whale carcass

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Commentators on Nicklen’s video have questioned why he did not step in to help the starving bear, who spends much of the video desperately searching for something to eat. “Of course, that crossed my mind,” said Nicklen, according to the New York Times. “But it’s not like I walk around with a tranquilizer gun or 400 pounds of seal meat.” Feeding wildlife is also illegal in Canada, where the footage was taken. To effectively save the polar bears, rapid action must be taken to address climate change by shifting to a clean energy economy. Still, even as polar bears suffer an existential threat from melting sea ice, life seems to be finding a way; there are reports of polar-grizzly bear hybrids that have emerged as the two species increasingly share territory.

+ National Geographic

Via New York Times

Images via SeaLegacy

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