Photographer behind shocking pic of starving polar bear reveals how the story was hijacked
Mittermeier says that the narrative that grew up around the photograph — in particular its relation to climate change — was inaccurate.
The heartbreaking photo of a starving polar bear which went viral last year thanks to climate change advocates is now being called into question by the photographer who captured the scene.
The National Geographic featured an image titled “Starving-Polar-Bear Photographer Recalls What Went Wrong,” in an article for its August issue. And now Cristina Mittermeier is clarifying the intended message of the photo against that perceived by the public.
“We had lost control of the narrative,” she said.
“Photographer Paul Nicklen and I are on a mission to capture images that communicate the urgency of climate change. Documenting its effects on wildlife hasn’t been easy,” she wrote in the article. “With this image, we thought we had found a way to help people imagine what the future of climate change might look like. We were, perhaps, naive. The picture went viral — and people took it literally.”
The photograph shows an emaciated polar bear with barely any fur covering its exoskeleton. The bear could be seen slowly moving through the terrain in a video captured by the duo, rummaging for food and looking alarmingly undernourished.
"When we arrived at the cove on a donated vessel, I scanned the shore with my binoculars. All I saw were a few dilapidated buildings, some empty fuel drums, and a very desolate landscape in what seemed like an abandoned fishing camp. We couldn’t locate the bear." Mittermeier wrote.
"Only when it lifted its head were we able to spot it lying on the ground, like an abandoned rug, nearly lifeless. From the shape of its body, it seemed to be a large male.
"We needed to get closer; we boarded a Zodiac boat and motored to land. Strong winds covered our noise and smell. From the shelter of one of the empty buildings, we watched the bear. He didn’t move for almost an hour. When he finally stood up, I had to catch my breath.
"Paul had warned me about the polar bear’s condition, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. The bear’s once white coat was molted and dirty. His once robust frame was skin and bones. Every step that he took was pained and slow. We could tell he was sick or injured and that he was starving. We could see that he was probably in his last days," she wrote.
According to Mittermeier, the "language put out by the publication" led to the narrative being misunderstood.
“The first line of the National Geographic video said, ‘This is what climate change looks like’ — with ‘climate change’ then highlighted in the brand’s distinctive yellow. In retrospect, National Geographic went too far with the caption.”
Around 2.5 billion people saw the footage, she said: “It became the most viewed video on National Geographic’s website — ever,” she added.
That was the enough for the mainstream media to blow the message out of proportion.
Quite a few experts were of the opinion that there could be several factors that led to the animal's plight, including age, illness, or even injury.
Mittermeier admits that she couldn’t “say that this bear was starving because of climate change.”
“Perhaps we made a mistake in not telling the full story — that we were looking for a picture that foretold the future and that we didn’t know what had happened to this particular polar bear.”
She says that her snapshot became another example of "environmentalist exaggeration,” but added that her intentions were “clear” and that if she had the opportunity to share “a scene like this one” again she would, reported Fox News.