A gut-wrenching video taken on Canada's Baffin Island shows an adult polar bear that looks like little more than a bag of bones covered by slack fur. The bear is pulling his body across an iceless emptiness, desperately seeking food.
"This is what climate change looks like," said the National Geographic article on the bear, which was captured on film by photographer Paul Nicklen last summer as Nicklen traveled with the conservation group Sea Legacy. The bear was spotted checking out trash cans left by Inuit fishermen and pulling out a tidbit or two.
As Nicklen and other photographers filmed the distraught animal, "we stood there crying," he said.
Normally the bear would have been fattened up on seals the previous winter and would soon be eating more, but the seals are vanishing along with the snow and ice on the islands due to climate change.
When scientists say bears are going extinct, I want people to realize what it looks like. Bears are going to starve to death.Paul Nicklen
Nicklen said that he was unable to help the bear and that it's illegal in Canada to feed the animals in any case. He said he wanted to film the horror of the once-majestic animal's demise to show the dramatic effects of climate change. Nicklen said he hopes the images help affect human behaviour so that the bear will not have died in vain.
"When scientists say bears are going extinct, I want people to realize what it looks like. Bears are going to starve to death," said Nicklen. "This is what a starving bear looks like."
It's a "soul-crushing scene that still haunts me," Nicklen wrote in an Instagram post. "But I know we need to share both the beautiful and the heartbreaking if we are going to break down the walls of apathy."
Polar bears are at "ground zero" of the devastation of climbing temperatures and melting ice, and it's drastically affecting their food sources and their lives. Their ice kingdom is rapidly vanishing, as tracked by the National Snow and Ice Data Center.
A study by the U.S. Geological Survey said that polar bears are being forced to try to "outrun" global warming by moving eastward on an accelerating "treadmill" of remaining sea ice. They must consume more seals to make up for the energy expended. But that won't last much longer.
"Short of action that effectively addresses the primary cause of diminishing sea ice, it is unlikely that polar bears will be recovered," said a report early this year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.