Viral Scrawny Polar Bear May be Evidence of Climate Impacts

September 14, 2015

skinnybearA photographer’s facebook posting of recent photos from a visit to Svalbard in the high Norwegian Arctic, has gone viral, prompting new questions about climate impacts on charismatic species like Polar bears.

Kerstin Langenberger on Facebook:

Experts claim the Svalbard population is stable, even rising. Well, here comes my question: how can a population be stable if it consists of less and less females and cubs? How can a population be doing good if most bear will score a body index of 2-3 out of 5? Only once I have seen a bear getting a big fat „5“, but several times I have seen dead bears and bears like this one: a mere „1“ on the scale, doomed to death. I do not have scientific data to proof my observations, but I have eyes to see – and a brain to draw conclusions. Climate change is happening big deal here in the Arctic. And it is our decision to trying to change this. So: let’s do something about the biggest threat of our time. Maybe we cannot save this bear here. But every little action we do to change our ways is a step in the right direction. We just have to get started and keep on going!


National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen captured a photo of an emaciated, deceased polar bear last summer while traveling around Svalbard, Norway, which he posted in recent days. This photograph, along with another photo of an exceptionally skinny polar bear that went viral in late August, would seem to speak to the dangers that global warming poses to the iconic species.

Rapid sea ice loss is depriving polar bears of their habitat, since they depend on the ice to hunt prey. Ice loss has been particularly noteworthy in recent years in northwestern Svalbard, says Ian Stirling, an adjunct professor at the University of Alberta who has studied polar bears for four decades. Stirling works as an ecotourism guide in Svalbard and has seen the sharp decline in summer ice cover, as well as an increase in sightings of skinny bears coming onshore.

Nicklen’s photo, Stirling says, shows a bear that most likely, but not certainly, died as a result of starvation related to sea ice melt. “You can’t say 100% that it starved to death, but that’s probably what happened,” he said.

“It certainly looks to me like it has starved to death,” Stirling added. He said the absence of biological tests to determine if the bear suffered from a disease that could have been fatal is a source of uncertainty in this case.


And all of this anecdotal evidence is supported by scientific data. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) currently lists polar bears as “vulnerable”—one step above “endangered”—because it’s believed that their numbers have been reduced by more than 30 percent in the last 45 years.

“Global climate change posses a substantial threat to the habitat of polar bears,” says the IUCN. “Recent modeling 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.”

There’s an ongoing campaign to save the polar bears by the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, Earthjustice and other groups.


8 Responses to “Viral Scrawny Polar Bear May be Evidence of Climate Impacts”

  1. mpcraig Says:

    A different perspective:

    “The photo above was taken by National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklan, who sent the instagram on 6 September 2015, with a photo and comments about a trip he’d taken to Svalbard in 2014.”

    • dumboldguy Says:

      A different perspective indeed! From Susan Crockford, who is another Heartland stooge and climate change denier like Russell Cook, and one who would surely NEVER allow her $750 per month Heartland “salary” to influence her science. LMAO!

      That said, there may be some “confusion” about the dates on the pics. So what? Anyone who thinks the polar bears are not seriously threatened by AGW has not done their homework. A look at the data indicates that we don’t have adequate date on half of the 20-odd populations anyway, and have little idea of their size and rate of increase or decline. It’ not rocket science, folks—like the walrus, the polar bear is dependent on sea ice, and the sea ice decline is not helping. One place to look for info:

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        Good pick-up, DOG. What a dishonest little shit she is! Reading her “About” section on her blog, one would think she receives no support from anyone except University of Victoria, British Columbia. Except, of course, that they don’t support her because she does no work for them.

        The crooked Crockford even says that “No one pays me to write this blog.” One has to wonder, then, why the Heartland Institute pays her anything at all. Surely it can’t be for her full-time job – Arctic bone analyzer. Gosh – I wonder what it could be for? I would ask her – but she doesn’t allow comments on her blog which she gets no money for writing.

        Strange isn’t it? Both she and Russell Cook write denier swill, but make a specific point that no one pays them to write what they write. They just get paid for it for some unknown reason. Just lucky, I guess.

    • Lol, those Heartland/Heartless cronies never cease to amaze with their imbecilic approach to information. “Hm, how shall we twist this story? First we need to buy a domain name that sounds very sciency… how about – yeah great!”. I mean they sound more and more like a parody of themselves. What will be next? Another alternative to IPCC – oh no, they already did that with NIPCC…

      Why, they already probably have the domain names for and other brilliant scientific discoveries…

      • dumboldguy Says:

        LOL indeed! At least the Heartland stooges are aptly named—-Susan CROCKford and Russell CROOK (or CROCK). Where is Russell anyway? Has Heartland stopped paying him and has that caused him to lose all interest in spreading his brand of “truth”? That would be very “whore-like” of him—no pay, no play.

        • I am sure the next thing they will do is for some of their members to change their names to John Cook, James Hansen and other well known personae within the climate debate and start spewing contradicting information so that the public no longer knows which John Cook said what and just give up caring (which is basically what they are trying to do in the first place). I mean that would be straight of their book of dishonest tricks from their Merchants of Doubt manual.

  2. Tom Curtis Says:

    Peter, with regard to the first photo, the photographer has been quoted as follows:

    “”You have to be a little bit careful about drawing conclusions immediately,” Stirling said. “[The bear] may be starving, but it may just be old,” he says, adding: “A difficulty hunting could be involved.” Stirling noted that the bear appears to have an injury to one of its hind legs, which could have played a role in its weight loss.

    “I don’t think you can tie that one to starvation because of lack of sea ice.””

    The quote can be found in the mashable article to which you link. It is unfortunate that the wrong photo has gone viral, in that the photo of the dead bear is attributed to global warming as you note.

    Further, it should be noted that Svarlbard is a “worst case” situation for polar bears given the early and rapid retreat of summer ice from its shores relative to Siberia or Canada. That is not comforting given likely future temperature trends. Svarlbard is just experiencing conditions that will be experienced elsewhere in 10 to 30 years. It is not, however, typical of current Arctic conditions for polar bears.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      understand the point. however, as you note, Svalbard is a little glimpse into the future, just as the California drought, Hurricane Sandy, the refugee crisis in the middle east, and the steady increase in coastal flooding, are all a little glimpse of various aspects of climate change.

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