Polar bears have entered into the international spotlight recently due to the emergence of a gut-wrenching video that shows a grossly emaciated polar bear roaming Baffin Island.
The footage, taken by Canadian photographer Paul Nicklen, is a truly saddening sight that demonstrates the devastating effects of climate change on wildlife in the Arctic. Nicklen has been around polar bears his entire life, ever since he as a kid and up until now as a wildlife photographer for National Geographic. But in all his years of capturing them through his lens, he said he's never seen anything as heartbreaking as the polar bear in his video.
The creature looked weak, stark thin, and barely clinging on to life. It had trouble putting the smallest steps forward, with its back leg dragging behind as a result of muscle atrophy. As it used its last bit of energy to look for food in a nearby trash can used by Inuit fisherman, it finds nothing and collapses back to the ground.
"We stood there crying - filming with tears rolling down our cheeks," he stated.
As much as Nicklen wanted to help, he explained that there were factors in play that prevented him from doing so. Not only did he not have "a tranquilizer gun or 400 pounds of seal meat" readily available, feeding polar bears in general is illegal in Canada, and, in the particular situation he was in, doing so would have only prolonged the bear's suffering.
While the feeding ban is in place for some good reasons (safety, preventing polar bear reliance on humans, etc.), the rapidly changing conditions in the Arctic may soon require emergency interventions to save the polar bears from extinction. Andrew Derocher, a biologist and polar bear expert at the University of Alberta, published a paper that proposed airdropping food to polar bears using helicopters. It's a short-term solution, but one that is still part of the overarching goal of mitigating climate change.
Many people want the federal government to intervene immediately. They have been tweeting to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to remove the feeding ban, as well as to end the legal hunt of polar bears that leaves 600 (roughly 3% of the total Canadian polar bear population) killed in Canada.
On the other side of the coin, others aren't so sure that the video is an accurate representation of the current status of all polar bears in the Canadian Arctic. The footage was shot in a region most afflicted by climate change, which is why there was barely any snow on the ground. However, in other parts of the Arctic where sea ice is still plentiful, polar bears are able to hunt marine mammals and sustain healthy lives. The Inuit have also claimed that polar bear numbers are still good, despite the changing conditions.'
Of course, that still doesn't erase the fact that that number is on a rapid decline. Yes, the majority of polar bears are still healthy, but their lives are constantly threatened by the diminishing sea ice that is shrinking their habitat. Which is why climate change is such a critical issue - things may look fine for polar bears right now, but in time the landscape will become just like the one depicted in the video - snowless, barren and completely unfit for supporting polar bears.
Climate change isn't discriminatory, either. Climate deniers will continue to be skeptical just because they do not feel its effects so heavily at the moment. But, like the polar bears and any other living and breathing organism on this planet, we (humans) are not immune to its consequences.
People everywhere are distraught over the polar bear footage, but have mixed opinions on its significance and the proper course of action:
"When scientists say bears are going extinct, I want people to realize what it looks like," says photographer Paul Nicklen— National Geographic (@NatGeo)
Canada needs to lift the ban on feeding polar bears. I'm not down to just watch them all die off.— Kitty (@meowyjuana)
polar bears require ice caps to hunt from. this was taken in canada where global warming has hit hard. you can’t watch this and still seriously believe that global warming is just a democratic conspiracy theory.— aiden (@aidenjorgenson)
Nice illustration of how #polarbear climate change deniers peddle their message: science in one corner, a handful of controversial works, & denier statements from @UVic adjunct professor. See http://bit.ly/2AGOW5L Internet Blogs, Polar Bears, and Climate-Change Denial by Proxy— Andrew Derocher (@AEDerocher)
This footage of a polar bear starving to death captures the devastating impact climate change is having on the species pic.twitter.com/1jEYCIF58v— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews)
This is why we need to be concerned about global warming and conservation. This is more than just polar bears but all species at risk due to habitat loss. This is a slow, painful death at the hands of humans. #betheforceforchange https://twitter.com/NatGeo/status/939283476334895104 …— Katie-Nicole Marble (@KatieKitt)
"We stood there crying—filming with tears rolling down our cheeks." http://on.natgeo.com/2AFPHJu— National Geographic (@NatGeo)
Polar bears are actually flourishing in Canada. Yes it’s sad to see an animal suffer, but one bear doesn’t tell the whole story. https://twitter.com/cathmckenna/status/939601028567191553 …— Alex Pierson (@AlexpiersonAMP)
SADLY, so true of the era of #fakenews and the 24/7 media cycle we inhabit today. The gullible lap it up and the so-called “#Climate Change Crisis” perpetuates with the climate-porn #propaganda merchants set on turbo, creating truths out of lies... https://climatism.wordpress.com/2017/12/09/one-starving-bear-is-not-evidence-of-climate-change-despite-gruesome-photos/ … #Auspol— JWSpry (@JWSpry)
At the end of the day, saying that polar bears are still flourishing in Canada and that they'll all eventually die are not good enough justifications for not taking the footage seriously. At it's core, the video is an example of what our planet could end up like, and it's our responsibility to do whatever it takes to prevent that from happening.