This polar bear starved to death thanks to global warming

This emaciated polar bear, a 16 year-old male, was recently found over 150 miles away from its normal range. Experts believe that a lack of sea ice forced the bear into unknown territory as it desperately searched for food — a quest that came to a grim conclusion.

Polar bears primarily feed on seals and require sea ice to capture their prey. But last year saw the lowest level of sea ice in the Arctic ever recorded — a serious problem for bears.

This starved bear, which was discovered in the Arctic island archipelago of Svalbard, appears to be a victim of the lack of sea ice. According to Ian Stirling, a renowned polar bear expert, it's climate change that's to blame.

"From his lying position in death the bear appears to simply have starved and died where he dropped," Stirling told The Guardian. "He had no external suggestion of any remaining fat, having been reduced to little more than skin and bone."

What's more, the bear had been previously examined by scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute in April in the southern part of Svalbard and it was completely healthy. The bear's location, some 250 km away from its regular stomping grounds, indicates that it probably followed the fjords inland as it traveled north — a rather epic journey.

"Most of the fjords and inter-island channels in Svalbard did not freeze normally last winter and so many potential areas known to that bear for hunting seals in spring do not appear to have been as productive as in a normal winter," explained Stirling. "As a result the bear likely went looking for food in another area but appears to have been unsuccessful."

The Guardian paints a bleak picture of the overall situation facing polar bears:

Research published in May showed that loss of sea ice was harming the health, breeding success and population size of the polar bears of Hudson Bay, Canada, as they spent longer on land waiting for the sea to refreeze. Other work has shown polar bear weights are declining. In February a panel of polar bear experts published a paper stating that rapid ice loss meant options such the feeding of starving bears by humans needed to be considered to protect the 20,000-25,000 animals thought to remain.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the world's largest professional conservation network, states that of the 19 populations of polar bear around the Arctic, data is available for 12. Of those, eight are declining, three are stable and one is increasing.

The IUCN predicts that increasing ice loss will mean between one-third and a half of polar bears will be lost in the next three generations, about 45 years. But the US and Russian governments said in March that faster-than-expected ice losses could mean two-thirds are lost.

Read more at The Guardian.

Photograph: Ashley Cooper/Global Warming Images.