This Photo Tells You Everything You Need to Know About the Future of Polar Bears

You can’t have a conversation about the devastating effects of climate change without mentioning the plight of polar bears.

With a global population that ebbs and flows like the tide, their endangered status is especially pertinent to global warming because a polar bear’s survival is directly affected by the ongoing and potential loss of their sea ice habitat.

German photographer Kerstin Langenberger recently captured a scene that highlights exactly how that reality looks. During a trip to Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean renowned for its polar bear spotting, she snapped a photo of one that was shockingly malnourished as it made its way across a thin sheet of ice. While the size of the polar bear population can be contested, the alarming rate at which ice is melting cannot.

Langenberger also observed how the ice has been disappearing over the years and indirectly connected this to what she’s noticed as a concerning number of polar bears with below average body indexes. A widely circulated photo of a deceased polar bear by National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen suggest Langenberger’s discovery is not isolated.

Last summer I traveled with a group of friends to Svalbard, Norway in search of polar bears. We went to my favorite spot where I have always been able to find bears roaming around on sea ice throughout the summer. On this occasion, however, we didn’t find any sea ice and we never found any bears alive. We did find two dead bears in this location and other groups found more dead bears. These bears were so skinny, they appeared to have died of starvation, as in the absence of sea ice, they were not able to hunt seals. In all of my years of growing up in the Arctic and later, working as a biologist, I had never found a dead polar bear. It is now becoming much more common. Through @sea_legacy and @natgeo we will continue to shine a light on our changing planet to convince the unconvinced. Please follow me on @paulnicklen to learn more about the effects of climate change. #polarbear #nature #wildlife #arctic #seaice @thephotosociety

A photo posted by Paul Nicklen (@paulnicklen) on

There is a valid argument that what caused this particular polar bear’s frail appearance is indeterminable, but the fact that the species’ future survival will face increasing challenges is clear as glacier water. The photo’s value lies in its symbolic, not factual, significance, which is just how things are these days – how much have your feelings about trophy hunting spiked since you heard the story of a U.S. dentist who murdered a celebrity lion?

Moving from the awareness to action stage, on the other hand, is a whole other battle. And one we hope Canadians, and the rest of the world, are willing to take as soon as possible.