Undoubtedly, the Arctic is one of Earth’s most fragile biomes, and now with oil companies drilling under its icy waters and decimating its pristine landscapes, the Arctic has also become one of Earth’s most threatened areas.
For a long time, images of scrawny polar bears have been effectively used by environmental NGOs to highlight the climate change peril across the Arctic area. The plight of polar bears against melting ice on our warmer globe is emblematic of the ecological struggle other biological organisms are suffering in the Artic. Sea ice is the home of ice seals which are polar bears' major food source, so when the sea ice melts and disappears, so do the bears' feeding opportunities. Rising temperatures are forcing bears to spend more time on land and thus wait longer between feeding.
So, an image of a polar bear starving to death, or of rotting carcasses of dead polar bears, immediately starts to paint a picture in our minds of the downward environmental spiral across Arctic food chains.
One such image of a withered polar bear on the brink of death was shared around social media last week. Surely, that poor polar bear is starving. When a species that is usually round, large, and layered up with winter-fighting fat suddenly has its ribs on display, you can tell the natural balance of his habitat has been drastically altered.
Polar bears are enduring some desperate attempts to adapt to climate change. One Canadian pressures came from a Canadian researcher who has witnessed a scientific first of logging a polar bear holding his breath underwater for a record-breaking three minutes. Such a desperate measure is indicative of the bear failing to catch adequate food.
But are these two isolated cases, or are there more healthy bears living on the ice?
Across the entire Arctic there are 19 recognised polar bear subpopulations, but only two have been studied for long enough to show that changes in ice conditions are affecting the livelihood of the species. More rigorous monitoring and conservation assistance is needed to paint a more accurate picture of Arctic environmental change than one or two scrawny, starved bears.
These bears were so skinny, they appeared to have died of starvation, as in the absence of sea ice, they were not able to hunt seals. Paul Nicklen, a scientist at the University of Alberta who studies polar bears, agreed with the assessment that the bear had starved to death. “You can’t say 100 per cent that it starved to death, but that’s probably what happened," he told Mashable. "It certainly looks to me like it has starved to death.”