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A polar bear can barely walk through an Arctic landscape almost void of ice. The photographer has said his team members were "pushing through their tears" to film the scene.
A video of a starving polar bear searching for food on a remote Canadian island has gone viral on social media.
The footage taken by Paul Nicken, a photographer for National Geographic magazine and co-founder of the environmental group Sea Legacy, has been shared more than a million times since it was posted to Instagram on Tuesday.
The slightly over one-minute long video shows the emaciated bear as it struggles to crawl in its search for food near Baffin Island inside the Arctic Circle. Midway through the video, it rummages through a rubbish can and finds what Nicken said was a piece of foam from a snowmobile seat.
"My entire Sea Legacy team was pushing through their tears and emotions while documenting this dying polar bear," Nicken said. "It's a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me."
No ice, no food
Nicken's colleague, Cristina Mittermeier, said polar bears need hundreds of pounds of meat to survive, but that the gradual melting of ice in the region has made it difficult for them to catch seals — their primary food source.
"They struggle when they are stranded for long periods of time on land, without a sea ice platform from which to hunt," she wrote in an Instagram post showing a photo of the starving bear.
Mittermeier also responded to social media users who questioned why the Sea Legacy team did not try and help the bear: "We didn’t have a weapon and we didn't have any food for it. There literally was nothing we could do."
Specter of climate change
Mittermeier added that while she couldn't prove climate change had caused the bear to starve, global warming would cause many more bears to starve in the future.
"It is true that we don't know what caused this animal to starve, but we are certain that unless we curb carbon emissions, sea ice will continue to disappear and many more bears will starve," she said.
Nicken, who said the footage was designed to "break down the walls of apathy," also called for action against climate change.
"The simple truth is this — if the Earth continues to warm, we will lose bears and entire polar ecosystems," he said.