By Alex Jones
HEARTBREAKING photos of an emaciated polar bear struggling to stand have emerged – as retreating sea ice and climate change continues to threaten the endangered species’ survival.
Harrowing shots captured in Greenland by a British-Brazilian photographer show a gaunt polar bear straining to stand up; its skeletal frame protruding through its sagging skin as it struggles to walk; and the poor creature’s mud-dappled snout pointing dejectedly towards the camera.
The upsetting images were captured by London-born photographer, Joe Shutter (30) whilst on a recent expedition to Greenland.
“I visited Greenland last year and we were lucky enough to see five polar bears,” explained Joe, who is of English and Brazilian heritage.
“This year we only saw one – and he was in a sorry state. You’re not guaranteed to see polar bears of course but the one we did see was painfully thin and snuffling around in the dirt – there was no ice or snow around it.
“The captain of the boat I was on – who has been visiting this part of Greenland for over 30 years – said the bear was in trouble, that he was too weak heading into winter. It was quite poignant, quite cutting to see really, to watch a bear in such bad shape.”
Polar bears spend most of their lives on the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean and an established population has inhabited northern Greenland for generations. Usually, the distinctive bears have a thick layer of body fat and a water-repellent coat that insulates them from the cold air and water. Usually surviving on a diet of seal, which has a very high fat content, bears can sustain themselves for long spells without eating. This particular bear appeared to be all but starving.
According to the WWF, because of ongoing and potential loss of their sea ice habitat resulting from climate change, polar bears were listed as a threatened species in the US under the Endangered Species Act in May 2008. Scientists have divided the total polar bear population into 19 units or subpopulations. Of those, the latest data from the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group show that one subpopulation is in decline (Southern Beaufort Sea) and that there is a high estimated risk of future decline due to climate change and data deficiency.
“I think we’re all aware of the dangers we’re facing,” continued Joe.
“The issues of plastic pollutions and retreating sea ice – it’s quite galling, quite thought provoking to see its effects in the flesh. It may just have been this was an old bears whose time had come, but it seemed to have no energy – not like the playful bears I saw last year.
“I think that is what’s most striking about Greenland. It is a mind-blowing place, simply mind-blowing. But it is both epic and fragile, you get a real sense of what’s at stake. We must all do our bit to protect our most at-risk environments.”