Heartbreaking Photo of Polar Bear and Icebreaking Expedition Ship

“The survival of polar bears as a species is difficult to envisage under conditions of zero summer sea-ice cover.”

That grim prognosis is from the 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, by leading scientists from the eight Arctic nations, including ours.  It’s highly likely the Arctic will be virtually ice free in the summer within about two decades, if not one (see “Arctic sea ice volume: The death spiral continues”).

Rear Admiral David Titley, the Oceanographer of the Navy, testified last year that  “the volume of ice as of last September has never been lower” in the last several thousand years.” Titley, who is also the Director of Navy’s Task Force Climate Change, told the Chief of Naval Operations that “we expect to see four weeks of basically ice free conditions in the mid to late 2030s.”

So the polar bear is in a losing battle.  Humanity, sadly, isn’t in any battle at all to stop its own self-inflicted devastation. When will we wake up to the challenge?

Do not go gently into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

This is a NatGeo photo (12/10) via Grist (12/11)

22 Responses to Heartbreaking Photo of Polar Bear and Icebreaking Expedition Ship

  1. John McCormick says:

    If ever there was an image that captures the phrase ‘man versus nature, man wins. Nature bats last” This is it.

    We are destroying the only home we’ll ever inhabit; just as we are destroying the habitat for Arctic mammals, birds, sea creatures.

    It is as if that desperate polar bear is trying to hold back the symbol of its demise.

    I think of the last standing tree on Easter Island being felled and the collapse of the island’s inhabitants that followed.

    Anger and sadness and a creeping feeling of inevitability.

    This photo should be plastered on billboards around the world.

  2. For our sons and daughters too

    when all of what we are today
    is dim dim distant past
    a racial memory mostly myth
    known to the shaman caste

    i wonder what they’ll think of us
    when sitting by the fire
    and hearing of the things we did
    like gods but so much higher

    “the great great gods of long ago
    they walked upon the moon
    they drank the very blood of earth
    from death they were immune”

    “they did not walk upon the ground
    but through the air they flew
    and everything there is to know
    the ancient gods they knew”

    i guess the stories that they tell
    the children will devour
    they’ll dream that they were just like us
    and had enormous power

    i doubt they could imagine though
    the real truth to tell
    of how we raped their planet
    and we made our lives a hell

    they’ll never know the polar bear
    the tiger or the crane
    and countless other creatures
    to which we were the bane

    they’ll also never know the stars
    because we stole their chance
    because we’d rather party on
    and live upon advance

    oh what a sad sad species
    we “gods” of planet earth
    we stupid kings of overshoot
    what really are we worth?

    just look around at what you see
    and ask yourself “where now?”
    and if you have an answer
    it better tell you how

    ’cause i can’t see a future
    that is anything but grim
    and even bare survival chances
    often seem so slim

    i hope that future stories
    are told around the fire
    that kids enjoy just living
    and old folk just retire

    i hope we’re not the last of us
    i really really do
    i hope that there’s a future
    for our sons and daughters too

  3. Jacob says:

    Sadly, the fate of that bear is never to be known, even though it’s probably not much of a mystery.

  4. Steve says:

    Maybe he’s playing.

  5. suzanne says:

    beautiful and sad

  6. Auntie Em says:

    Global climate has changed many times before. Man really can’t take all the credit.

  7. Chris says:

    I hope they stopped.

  8. scas says:

    Here’s an image of PIOMAS minimum ice volume for 2011.

    Eerily, if 2012 extra melt volume follows that step pattern, I wonder if we’ll see an ice free Arctic in 2012? Creepy. Those Mayans were on to something.

    Future doesn’t look good for polar bears. Or humans. Or mice. Or roaches.

  9. scas says:

    Why not? Climate changes when a forcing is applied – be in nuclear war, orbital positioning, asteroids impacts, or supereruptions.

    We applied the forcing this time. We’re responsible.

  10. Chris Ho-Stuart says:

    Long term, I certainly agree that the prognosis for that polar bear is grim, given how well she is adapted to an environment now in rapid decline.

    Be that as it may; the photo does not show that. If the bear is in distress, it will almost certainly be because the ship itself is breaking up the ice on which she’s hunting.

    But just as likely, she’s curious. That’s the description that comes with the original photo at NatGeo, and it makes good sense.

    It’s just silly to think she’s trying to drive away the ship, or climb onto it as a refuge. She’s checking it out.

  11. RelayeR says:

    What you see there is actually the perfect example of an animal that has no natural predator. No fear at all, just curiosity. Something that is big, unusual, and moving would scare away basically any animal with a survival instinct. But not a top predator like the polar bear. The bear is probably thinking something like: “If I manage to eat a whale of this size, I’m gonna be the fattest kid on the block and females will be all over me…” Then he probably realized that ships are not edible.

    For the record, I’m am not a polar bear specialist.

    I know that their latin name is Ursus Maritimus though. And without ice to step on, that “maritimus” aspect will really be put to the test.

  12. prokaryotes says:

    No! Stop! Don’t destroy the Ice sheet!

    THANKS Cassidy Poarch

  14. John McCormick says:

    It comes down to brain size!

  15. Steve Bloom says:

    I’m no expert, but that bear looks very thin.

  16. Nicole says:

    We just excelled the process. It would have happened with or without us. We cant be completely to blame. But we also should wake up and change our destructive ways.

  17. Tim says:

    Ah yes – no thread would be complete without a denialist moron chirping some worn out talking point. Got any more brilliant slogans to share?

  18. JOan says:

    Even if you are right, that its not ALL human caused (let’s face it we are part of a giant ecological system) the second part of your comment is what seems to sum it all up. We are destructive.

    I’d love it if you and others also remember that we are creative and capable and amazing. I hope we tap into those qualities to come to a solution. It’s totally possible – all it takes is being able to acknowledge what is and to turn to solutions.

    Sadness and turning away won’t help us.

  19. Fen says:

    There will be around 10+ billion people on this planet by the middle of the century. Nature is going to be squeezed harder than anything we’re seeing now. We have got to stop the human overpopulation problem! The third world has to stop breeding like this. We need to make sure people have incentives like education and family planning services, but we also have to take a hard line with this. We can’t keep saying that it’s someone’s right to overpopulate. IT’S NOT! Our world is more interconnected now than it has ever been. People need to realize that what you do ultimately effects everyone and everything on this planet.

    Have only two children per couple. Eat low on the foodchain. Consume only what is necessary. Think of your footprint on this planet. Use less packaging. These are small things you can do to make sure that wildlife can survive this time of crisis and that our children and grandchildren can have a planet to enjoy and be hopeful for.

  20. Johan says:

    The ship was stationary at the time. The bear approached and then left.

  21. Susee says:

    @The Peak Oil Poet. This is a BEAUTIFUL poem. If you wrote it well done. I have posted it in my notes on fb. Thank you for sharing.

  22. Regarding the comments about the polar bear leaning on the bow of a ship.

    The ship, the National Geographic Explorer, belongs to Lindblad Expeditions. We have been exploring Svalbard for a very long time and periodically, as was the case here, bears (particularly young ones) approach the ship out of curiosity. This one stayed for a long time inspecting the ship from bow to stern. Hunting polar bears has been outlawed in Svalbard since 1973 so there is really no fear of ships.

    More importantly though, climate change is definitely affecting the Arctic and there is less sea ice generally. Bringing curious travelers to such regions respectfully is vital to furthering a dialogue essential to the planet’s future. Such intimate encounters dig deeply into the hearts of travelers who, as a consequence, cannot be as easily detached from the issue of climate change. The polar bear serves as the most charismatic ambassador for this vital issue.

    You may want to see a film we made in July 2008 when we brought a group of political, business and scientific leaders to Svalbard in order to grapple with ideas to build awareness and political will. Among the participants: Larry Page, Madeleine Albright, Ted Turner and President Jimmy Carter. The film: