Documentary makers describe breaking down as they film starving polar bear in iceless land

Lucy Pasha-Robinson

A group of filmmakers have shared images of the gut-wrenching moment they stumbled across a starving polar bear clinging to life in the wild as it scavenged for food.

Photographer Paul Nicklen and filmmakers from Sea Legacy spotted the bear on the Canadian Baffin Islands this summer.

The group captured disturbing images of the emaciated bear, with its white hair hanging off its bony frame, dragging its back legs behind it.

Mr Nicklen was used to seeing bears in the wild, having grown up in Canada’s far north, but nothing could have prepared him for this encounter.

“We stood there crying—filming with tears rolling down our cheeks,” he told National Geographic.

Mr Nicklen said he wanted to intervene but was powerless without a tranquillizer gun or high-fat animal meat.

Instead, he decided to film the bear’s slow death to be sure it did not die in vain.

“When scientists say bears are going extinct, I want people to realise what it looks like. Bears are going to starve to death,” he said. “This is what a starving bear looks like.”

The half-ton bears rely on sea ice to find their main source of food – seals, causing them to suffer the effects of climate change acutely.

With their Arctic home warming at an alarming rate, the sea ice which they use to hunt for seals is melting and grizzly bears are moving into their territory.

A study published last year by the European Geosciences Union found melting sea ice continues to be an existential threat to polar bears.

Another study published this year discovered the bears rely heavily on their sense of smell to find their prey. To do this, they walk across the direction of wind to test the air from as wide a range as possible.

But wind speeds are projected to increase as a result of climate change, which will make it harder to pick up and follow the scent.