“Soul-crushing” video of starving polar bear gives stark warning on global warming

Written by on December 10, 2017 in Critter Crimes - 1 Comment

Video of wild polar bear starving to death is both heartbreaking and a stirring call to action.

The footage, captured by photographer Paul Nicklen of the conservation group Sea Legacy, shows a young, male polar bear hopelessly dragging itself across a dry Baffin Island in the Canadian north in search of food.

The bear was photographed in August at an abandoned Inuit camp as it looked through an old garbage bin.

The bear finds nothing. Then, he slumps down helplessly.

“My entire @Sea_Legacy team was pushing through their tears and emotions while documenting this dying polar bear,” Nicklen writes in his Instagram post, which quickly amassed more than 1 million views in just a few days.

“It’s a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me,” he adds, “but I know we need to share both the beautiful and the heartbreaking if we are going to break down the walls of apathy. This is what starvation looks like. The muscles atrophy. No energy. It’s a slow, painful death. When scientists say polar bears will be extinct in the next 100 years, I think of the global population of 25,000 bears dying in this manner.”

Warning: This is incredibly hard, but important to watch.

My entire @Sea_Legacy team was pushing through their tears and emotions while documenting this dying polar bear. It’s a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me, but I know we need to share both the beautiful and the heartbreaking if we are going to break down the walls of apathy. This is what starvation looks like. The muscles atrophy. No energy. It’s a slow, painful death. When scientists say polar bears will be extinct in the next 100 years, I think of the global population of 25,000 bears dying in this manner. There is no band aid solution. There was no saving this individual bear. People think that we can put platforms in the ocean or we can feed the odd starving bear. The simple truth is this—if the Earth continues to warm, we will lose bears and entire polar ecosystems. This large male bear was not old, and he certainly died within hours or days of this moment. But there are solutions. We must reduce our carbon footprint, eat the right food, stop cutting down our forests, and begin putting the Earth—our home—first. Please join us at @sea_legacy as we search for and implement solutions for the oceans and the animals that rely on them—including us humans. Thank you your support in keeping my @sea_legacy team in the field. With @CristinaMittermeier #turningthetide with @Sea_Legacy #bethechange #nature #naturelovers This video is exclusively managed by Caters News. To license or use in a commercial player please contact info@catersnews.com or call +44 121 616 1100 / +1 646 380 1615”

A post shared by Paul Nicklen (@paulnicklen) on


The scene is gutting, but it should give people pause.

This is what climate change does.

“There was no saving this individual bear,” Nicklen adds. “People think that we can put platforms in the ocean or we can feed the odd starving bear. The simple truth is this—if the Earth continues to warm, we will lose bears and entire polar ecosystems. This large male bear was not old, and he certainly died within hours or days of this moment. But there are solutions. We must reduce our carbon footprint, eat the right food, stop cutting down our forests, and begin putting the Earth—our home—first.”

Photo by @cristinamittermeier // A few months ago, @PaulNicklen and I documented this heartwrenching scene we posted yesterday—a starving polar bear roaming through an abandoned Inuit camp along the shores of Baffin Island. Though it wasn’t possible for scientists to tell us exactly what had caused this bear to starve to death, we do know that he didn’t have any visible wounds and that he was not an old bear. Many of you have asked whether we could have saved this individual bear, but the hard truth is that he was on his last legs and his muscles had atrophied beyond repair. It would also have been illegal to feed him, to approach him, or to do anything to ease his pain. However, there is hope for the remaining polar bears if we want it. Click the link in our bio to learn more about the solutions available to achieve drawdown—the point where global warming reverses.

A post shared by SeaLegacy #TurningTheTide (@sea_legacy) on

As Sea Legacy points out this bear was beyond saving.

“Many of you have asked whether we could have saved this individual bear, but the hard truth is that he was on his last legs and his muscles had atrophied beyond repair,” the group notes. “It would also have been illegal to feed him, to approach him, or to do anything to ease his pain.”

Photographer Cristina Mittermeier, who is also a co-founder of Sea Legacy, says her heart breaks when she looks at this photo she snapped.

“We cried as we filmed this dying bear,” she writes. “This is the face of climate change. A polar bear struggles to stand in his final days on the planet. We traveled to the Arctic with @sea_legacy in August and saw both healthy bears and starving bears. As climate change accelerates, we will see less of the former and more of the latter. It’s a heartbreaking reality of our current lifestyle.”


But they aren’t giving up.

And say neither should we.

On Tuesday, we shared a video of a starving polar bear. It was sad to film, but so important to share. We need perspective into the future for polar bears, and this provided that perspective. Unless we curb carbon emissions and pursue solutions to achieve drawdown, this is the grim fate for species. The good news is that a wide array of both proven and promising new solutions already exist. Reforesting the oceans and restarting natural nutrient cycles can drawdown carbon, deacidify and cool surface waters, at the same time as producing sustainable food and biofuel. @Sea_Legacy went to the Canadian Arctic to document the effects of climate change. We found them. We also found healthy bears like this one hunting on a beautiful piece of ice. Join The Tide (link in bio) to help us continue to show the world what’s a stake and how we can fix it. #TurningTheTide

A post shared by Cristina Mittermeier (@cristinamittermeier) on

Main photo Cristina Mittermeier/Instagram

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Recovering newspaper reporter.

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