Photographer's video of starving polar bear goes viral! So why didn't his crew attempt to save it?

All you need to know about the video of an emacipated polar bear foraging for food in a garbage can that took the world by storm. Shot by biologist and nature photographer Paul Nicklen, if this video doesn't hit you, nothing will!

                            Photographer's video of starving polar bear goes viral! So why didn't his crew attempt to save it?

While politicians argue over the existence of global warming, one thing is clear - we have stripped Earth with our reckless behavior. Like every extinct animal in history ever, it may not be long before our majestic polar bears start existing only in photographs. An absolutely heartbreaking video of an emaciated polar bear surfaced last week and it struck a nerve with audience worldwide - it was viewed over 3.5 million times on Instagram.

The video was shot by Paul Nicklen, a nature photographer, and contributor for the National Geographic magazine. He is also a biologist by training and the co-founder of Sea Legacy, a nonprofit that uses storytelling and images to advocate for the environment. The viral video was shot on one of the trips for Sea Legacy, the Washington Post reported.

Nicklen's video clearly shows the polar bear struggling to walk, its coat patchy, seemingly near death. The video was shot on Somerset island in Canadian territory inside the Arctic Circle. The bear searches for food in a rusted garbage can and chews what Nicklen said was an old snowmobile seat.

Watch the gut-wrenching video here:

Nicklen and his team saw the bear and shot the video reportedly from about 400 feet away and had tears, he told National Geographic. "We are a visual species,” Nicklen said in a phone interview with the same. “He should have been a dominant bear. Why he was dying, I don’t know.”

Nicklen, 49, who grew up in the region on nearby Baffin Island, said that he had never seen a bear in such poor condition before. “We stood there crying — filming with tears rolling down our cheeks,” he added.

"It’s a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me, but I know we need to share both the beautiful and the heartbreaking if we are going to break down the walls of apathy,” he wrote. “This is what starvation looks like. The muscles atrophy. No energy. It’s a slow, painful death," he captioned the video.

"This is what a starving polar bear looks like. Weak muscles, atrophied by extended starvation could barely hold him up. Our Sea Legacy team watched as he painfully staggered towards the abandoned fishing camp from which we were observing and found some trash to eat—a piece of foam from the seat of a snowmobile, as we later found out." - Christina Mittermeier, Sea Legacy    (Instagram)

After millions of questions began pouring in about the circumstances of the video and the truth behind it, National Geographic chose to answer a few questions that people had raised. 

An overwhelming number of people asked - Why did the photographers not do something to help the bear, rather than just photograph it? The magazine answered saying that the photographers were not in a position to get help or assist the dying animal. 

They said the nearest village was not accessible at that time and approaching a predatory starving animal without any safety precautions or weapons would have been foolish and so they the next best thing they did was capture on video the dreadful sight. 

About the fate of the polar bear - Nicklen and Mittermeier recorded the bear in late August. And they say that the bear was in such pitiful condition that it might as well have died two days later. They are unaware of the fate of the bear. 

On the surface, Nicklen says the animal did not bear any signs of external injury. When polar bears engage with one another, the encounters can be brutal. It's rare to see a bear advanced in age with few visible scars. It had clearly been starving for a long period of time. 



Scientists believe that polar bears face an existential threat from climate change due to the loss of habitat from melting sea ice. The populations of some 25,000 polar bears in 19 locations worldwide are forecast to decline by as much as a third in the coming decades. Government agencies and multiple studies continue to warn that if there is no cap on the climate change, the polar bears will be extinct by 2050!

While this video received coverage from all over the world, some were skeptical about its authenticity of the problem.

Donald Moore, the director of Oregon Zoo, a senior science adviser to Smithsonian National Zoo and an expert on polar bears, said he couldn’t tell much more about the bear’s age or condition from the video except its extreme skinniness, reported The Washington Post. “These polar bears should be riding ice somewhere,” he said. “We have seen more and more very thin polar bears in the Arctic in recent years as climate change increases in intensity and opens up more water. He admitted to the decline in the percentage of these giants and said that it was about 20 percent over the last decade.

There are more who have been skeptical about it being an indicator of climate change. Longtime polar bear biologist Andrew Derocher in an email to National Post says that it was nothing but a polar bear declining in age and health. 

Many biologists have chosen to say that the bear was not starving because of climate change but that it was ravaged probably by health issues. Polar bears are known to survive thin ice and lean seasons where there are not many seals to hunt. 

Many biologists are of the opinion that the bear was looking emaciated because of health issues. Here you can see two normal healthy looking polar bears engage in a playful fight 

“Polar bears, they don’t have natural enemies, so when they die, it’s of starvation,” Steven Amstrup, chief scientist at Polar Bears International, said in 2015. And, like many other bears, such as the grizzly, polar bears sometimes go through dramatic cycles of feast and famine.

It drove most people to clutch their heart in grief but there were also viewers who were angered by the video. They wondered why they couldn't help the bear and feed it. "It’s not like we travel around with 200-300 of pounds of seal meat when we’re walking around in the Arctic,” Nicklen said. “We knew it was going to be gut-wrenching and intense and horrible," he said. Bears need an immense amount of food, about an average of a seal a week.

This is the originally uploaded video by Nicklen on instagram:


My entire @Sea_Legacy team was pushing through their tears and emotions while documenting this dying polar bear. It’s a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me, but I know we need to share both the beautiful and the heartbreaking if we are going to break down the walls of apathy. This is what starvation looks like. The muscles atrophy. No energy. It’s a slow, painful death. When scientists say polar bears will be extinct in the next 100 years, I think of the global population of 25,000 bears dying in this manner. There is no band aid solution. There was no saving this individual bear. People think that we can put platforms in the ocean or we can feed the odd starving bear. The simple truth is this—if the Earth continues to warm, we will lose bears and entire polar ecosystems. This large male bear was not old, and he certainly died within hours or days of this moment. But there are solutions. We must reduce our carbon footprint, eat the right food, stop cutting down our forests, and begin putting the Earth—our home—first. Please join us at @sea_legacy as we search for and implement solutions for the oceans and the animals that rely on them—including us humans. Thank you your support in keeping my @sea_legacy team in the field. With @CristinaMittermeier #turningthetide with @Sea_Legacy #bethechange #nature #naturelovers This video is exclusively managed by Caters News. To license or use in a commercial player please contact or call +44 121 616 1100 / +1 646 380 1615”

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