A starving polar bear with its thin, bony body discovered scrounging for food on Baffin Island was a painful sight for a team from the conservation group Sea Legacy, which included National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen.
Footage of the polar bear barely managing to walk and clearly on its deathbed was captured by Nicklen and serves as a powerful message about climate change.
Sea Legacy uses the power of photography to illustrate the importance of protecting marine ecosystems, and that message came in loud and clear in this video:
"We stood there crying--filming with tears rolling down our cheeks," Nicklen told National Geographic.
"When scientists say bears are going extinct, I want people to realize what it looks like. Bears are going to starve to death. This is what a starving bear looks like."
Since posting video online, some commenters asked why they didn't intervene, but the group was helpless to help.
“Of course, [helping it out] crossed my mind,” Nicklen told NatGeo. “But it’s not like I walk around with a tranquilizer gun or 400 pounds of seal meat.”
Even so, the polar bear's misery would only have been prolonged; plus, it is illegal to feed wild polar bears in Canada.
Polar bears have long been unwitting mascots for the effects of climate change. As animals that live only in Arctic regions, they’re often the first to feel the impacts of warming temperatures and rising seas.
The large, half-ton bears find concentrations of seals on sea ice. During summer months, it’s not uncommon for polar bears to go months without eating while they wait for Arctic ice to solidify.
In 2002, a World Wildlife Fund report predicted that climate change could eventually lead to polar bear endangerment or extinction. Even then, the report found that polar bears were moving from ice to land earlier and staying on land longer, unhealthily extending the bears’ fasting season. By the end of summer, most bears studied by the World Wildlife Fund showed signs of starvation.
Fifteen years later, polar bears’ icy hunting grounds are in even worse shape.
"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," Nicklen wrote on Instagram.
"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."
More about polar bears from GrindTV