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Dublin: 3 °C Thursday 14 November, 2019
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Shocking photo of emaciated polar bear goes viral

But is it the result of climate change or old age?

A SHOCKING PHOTO of an emaciated polar bear has gone viral, raising concerns about the impact of global warming.

The image was taken by photographer Kerstin Langenberger who spotted the bear on the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard.

Timeline Photos - Kerstin Langenberger Photography | Facebook Source: Facebook

Langenberger said she has seen bears in good shape in the area, but has also found “dead and starving polar bears“.

“The fat bears are nearly exclusively males which stay on the pack ice all year long. The females, on the other hand, which den on land to give birth to their young, are often slim. With the pack ice retreating further and further north every year, they tend to be stuck on land where there’s not much food.”

In the first year, they lose their first cub. In the second year, they lose their second (and last) cub. Only once I have seen a mother with a nearly independent cub. Only few times I have seen beautifully fat mothers with beautifully fat young. Many times I have seen horribly thin bears, and those were exclusively females – like this one here. A mere skeleton, hurt on her front leg, possibly by a desperate attempt to hunt a walrus while she was stuck on land.

Langenberger notes that experts say Svalbard’s polar bear population is stable, but she questions how this can be the case as so many females and cubs are dying.

At the time of publication, her post had been shared over 43,000 times.

dead bear 2 Source: Instagram

Meanwhile, National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen recently shared an image of a dead polar bear he encountered in Svalbard.

“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. In all of my years of growing up in the Arctic and later, working as a biologist, I had never found a dead polar bear. It is now becoming much more common,” Nicklen said.

Ian Stirling, an adjunct professor at the University of Alberta who has studied polar bears for four decades, told Mashable that while the bear in Nicklen’s photo most likely died of starvation, the animal in Langenberger’s image may not have been emaciated due to climate change.

“You have to be a little bit careful about drawing conclusions immediately. The bear may be starving, but it may just be old,” Stirling said.

Endangered

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers polar bears to be vulnerable. It’s believed there has been a 30% reduction in their population in the last 45 years.

The IUCN told IFL Science: “Global climate change posses a substantial threat to the habitat of polar bears. Recent modeling [sic] of the trends for sea ice extent, thickness and timing of coverage predicts dramatic reductions in sea ice coverage over the next 50-100 years.”

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Órla Ryan

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