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Viral Photo Brings Climate Change To The Fore Again

Climate Change Newspaper

A recent photo taken by Kerstin Langenberger from Arctic Dreams Photography has thrust the issue of climate change to the fore yet again (not that it was ever out of the spotlight). The picture in question can be seen here and is of a clearly malnourished polar bear roaming the terrain of Svalbard looking for food.

Many people have claimed that this is one of the most obvious signs yet that climate change is directly affecting the animals and the environments in the most extreme and fragile places on Earth. The photographer also that noted during her time on the Arctic archipelago she saw that the summer period lasted longer than before and that more and more sea ice is melting, forcing the bears to either hunt on land or chase the retreating ice north.

The reason why the effects of climate change are seen more in the Polar Regions is because the melting point of saltwater is lower than that of freshwater. Much of the ice in the Arctic is frozen sea water and so when things do heat up it is the first thing to start melting.

Alternative Causes

Seal On Melting Sea Ice

However, whilst there is no doubting the fact that the image is tough to look at (especially as the polar bear is one of the main reasons people embark on Arctic cruises), some wildlife experts are calling for us to not be so quick to jump to a certain conclusion. Karyn Rode, who works as a wildlife biologist in Alaska, poses some other explanations for why the animal is looking particularly gaunt in the picture. “(It) can be because they have an injury or because the animal is old and has lost some of its canines,” she said.

Without knowing anything about the bear it is impossible to tell whether either of these is the case, but it would certainly account for its emaciated appearance. Steven Amstrup, a leading scientist for Polar Bears International, concurred with Rode’s opinion, adding that “Polar bears don't have natural enemies, so when they die it's of starvation.”

A Change In Habits

Polar Bear Hunting

Whether the image depicts something that is becoming more and more common due to climate change or just a familiar occurrence in the natural world, experts are in agreement that polar bears may have to change their eating habits in order to prolong their survival. The majority of their hunting takes place on the sea ice, as they go in search of seals. They will regularly wait close to a seal’s air hole in the hope to catch it unawares as it comes up for air after a period under the water. However, as the ice retreats, this prey is becoming harder and harder to come by, meaning that some bears have to resort to scavenging old kills and even the bins in towns like Churchill, Canada.

It has been known for bears to look for food on land, mostly in the form of protein rich eggs. Still, this hardly provides enough nutrition to keep an animal of this size going and the eggs are only available in the spring. Sadly this leaves them having to either adapt to hunting larger land-based prey or continue to be pushed further and further north throughout the warmer months of the year.

If you would like to see these majestic creatures for yourself, we can offer many expedition cruises that feature wildlife watching. Call us today or submit your enquiry through the website.

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