'Scene that still haunts me': Video of starving polar bear goes viral

A polar bear can barely walk through an Arctic landscape almost void of ice. The photographer has said his team members were "pushing through their tears" to film the scene.

A video of a starving polar bear searching for food on a remote Canadian island has gone viral on social media.

Nature and Environment | 07.11.2017

The footage taken by Paul Nicken, a photographer for National Geographic magazine and co-founder of the environmental group Sea Legacy, has been shared more than a million times since it was posted to Instagram on Tuesday.

The slightly over one-minute long video shows the emaciated bear as it struggles to crawl in its search for food near Baffin Island inside the Arctic Circle. Midway through the video, it rummages through a rubbish can and finds what Nicken said was a piece of foam from a snowmobile seat.

"My entire Sea Legacy team was pushing through their tears and emotions while documenting this dying polar bear," Nicken said. "It's a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me."

Read more: The peculiar traits that made polar bear life possible

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Science | 21.09.2017

The Arctic sea ice shows considerable melting

No ice, no food

Nicken's colleague, Cristina Mittermeier, said polar bears need hundreds of pounds of meat to survive, but that the gradual melting of ice in the region has made it difficult for them to catch seals — their primary food source.

"They struggle when they are stranded for long periods of time on land, without a sea ice platform from which to hunt," she wrote in an Instagram post showing a photo of the starving bear.

Mittermeier also responded to social media users who questioned why the Sea Legacy team did not try and help the bear: "We didn’t have a weapon and we didn't have any food for it. There literally was nothing we could do."

Read more: Why is the Arctic melting faster than the Antarctic?

Specter of climate change

Mittermeier added that while she couldn't prove climate change had caused the bear to starve, global warming would cause many more bears to starve in the future.

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"It is true that we don't know what caused this animal to starve, but we are certain that unless we curb carbon emissions, sea ice will continue to disappear and many more bears will starve," she said.

Nicken, who said the footage was designed to "break down the walls of apathy," also called for action against climate change.

"The simple truth is this — if the Earth continues to warm, we will lose bears and entire polar ecosystems," he said.

Read more: COP23: High time to curb emissions as 2017 to become hottest year on record

Arctic journey highlights effects of global warming

Safe harbour

The Finnish icebreaker MSV Nordica is docked before setting sail for the Bering Strait in British Columbia, Canada. The giant vessel is about to take a team of international researchers through the Northwest Passage to record the environmental and social changes transforming this remarkable, forbidding corner of the planet.

Arctic journey highlights effects of global warming

Bright ice

Shards of broken sea ice shine brightly under the Arctic sun as the ship sails through the Franklin Strait on the Northwest Passage. Sea ice forms when the top layer of water reaches freezing point, usually in October. Should the ice survive the following year’s summer melt and beyond, it becomes the toughest kind.

Arctic journey highlights effects of global warming

A distant ship, smoke on the horizon

A cargo ship is framed distantly on the horizon from the deck of the MSV Nordica in the North Pacific Ocean. It’s one of the first sightings of marine traffic the Finnish icebreaker has encountered since it left Vancouver to traverse what is one of the most isolated maritime routes in the world.

Arctic journey highlights effects of global warming

The Chukchi Sea

The MSV Nordica sails past ice floating on the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska as it continues its journey through the Arctic's Northwest Passage. The record-breaking trip remains a challenge for conventional ships but scientists predict the route will be ice free by 2050, if current levels of warming continue.

Arctic journey highlights effects of global warming

Alone in the wild blue yonder

Waves crash against the hull of the MSV Nordica as it heads towards the Bering Sea under a gray sky. For most of its 24-day journey through the Northwest Passage, the only companions the ship and her crew had were Arctic sea birds, seals and the odd whale. Late on in the journey, a crew member sighted a polar bear.

Arctic journey highlights effects of global warming

At journey's end

Boatswain Henri Helminen secures a rope as the MSV Nordica docks in Nuuk, Greenland, having traversed the Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The 10,000 kilometer (6,214 miles) journey is the earliest transit of the Passage, breaking the record set by a Canadian Coast Guard ship in summer 2008.