There’s been a video gaining attention on social media these days. It’s not a funny fail, it’s not an amazing thing, it’s not even good. And that’s exactly why it needs to be seen.
It’s of a polar bear in the Baffin Islands, far up North between the coast of Canada and Greenland. You probably haven’t seen anything like it before. You’re probably going to hate it. And that’s exactly why you need to watch.
The video was captured by National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen and a filmmaker group from the conservation society Sea Legacy. Having grown up in the northern reaches of Canada, Nicklen says he’s no stranger to bears. He’s seen over 3,000 in the wild, and photographed probably almost as many. But the emaciated bear he captured here broke his heart.
“We stood there crying—filming with tears rolling down our cheeks,” he said.
The polar bear is desperately clinging to the last threads of life. Limp white fur covers its bony frame, and it weakly drags its legs behind it as it walks. NatGeo says that’s probably muscular dystrophy, induced by malnourishment and weakness. The bear scrounges for food in a trash can used seasonally by the local Inuit people. Finding nothing except what looks like a scrap of paper, the bear chews on it nonetheless, before collapsing down, exhausted and resigned to another hungry night.
Asked why he didn’t try to help, try to feed the poor creature, Nicklen says he wasn’t equipped to do that. “Of course, that crossed my mind,” he said. “But it’s not like I walk around with a tranquilizer gun or 400 pounds of seal meat.” Besides, that wouldn’t have been nearly enough food for the formerly majestic animal. It would have only prolonged its suffering once the humans filming it had left. Not to mention, of course, it’s illegal to feed wild polar bears in Canada.
Nicklen says he filmed the bear’s slow, trudging death, because he wanted it to mean something. “When scientists say bears are going extinct, I want people to realize what it looks like. Bears are going to starve to death,” he said.
Paul Nicklen/National Gepgraphic
“This is what a starving bear looks like.”
So why is that polar bear so thin and weak? Why is it starving? That’s because of us, and our refusals to take climate change seriously. The animals live only in the Arctic, meaning they’re the first to feel the impact of global warming, and the consequences that follow.
Polar bears feed on seals when they come up for air in holes in the ice sheet, or haul themselves onto sea ice to rest. They weigh between 350 to 700 kg, and despite, being good swimmers, can’t catch their prey in the water. So when the sea ice melts because of global warming, these polar bears lose their hunting ground. When sea levels rise, they have less room to move and have to migrate to land.
Way back in 2002, a World Wildlife Fund report predicted that climate change would eventually lead to polar bear extinction. Fifteen years later, that prophecy is dangerously close to being fulfilled.
So if you refuse to believe that climate change is a real thing, if you refuse to take it seriously, if you continue to say “they’ll adapt”, just stop. Stop right now. That bear is just one of a majestic species that’s suffering because of human actions. And things aren’t going to get better on their own.