Too soon to rule on sickly polar bear picture?
By Julia Rentsch, Staff Writer
If you think of environmentalism, do you immediately think of the movement’s poster children, the polar bears? Normally I’d go off on a big long article about why environmentalism is totally bigger than those adorably terrifying bears, but for once we are staying on the subject.
A picture depicting an emaciated polar bear gripped the web last week when the photographer, Kersten Langenberger, said that the bear’s ill health was likely due to climate change melting the ice in Svalbard, Norway.
Many have dismissed the claims as false correlation, saying that the bear was likely dying of sickness or injury unrelated to issues with hunting, which would be due to the scarcity of prey as their habitat is destroyed.
While it’s true that human-caused climate change has driven many species to extinction, and that according to scientists polar bears are indeed facing an imminent population crash from a decreased square mileage of habitat and more difficult hunting situation, this particular bear who pulled at the heartstrings of many last week wasn’t necessarily representative of all polar bears.
You may have noticed that Langenberger’s picture went viral but only appeared on more independent news sites like Mashable and the Huffington Post the that don’t operate with the same content quality criteria that more regulated news sites do.
On the other hand, another picture of an emaciated, dead polar bear by National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen in the same location of Svalbard, Norway last summer made a bit more headway.
Many online articles comparing both Langenberger’s and Nicklen’s photos have highlighted the comments by Ian Sterling, an adjunct professor at the University of Alberta. He observed that Nicklen’s photo was more likely to be of a bear who died as a result of climate change than Langenberger’s.
With so little discussion of these pictures and apparently just one expert offering his opinion, it’s easy to dismiss these bear deaths in Norway as unsolved. Maybe it will take a few more accounts from biologists in those areas, a little more exploration, and a little more research, but the thing to keep in mind is that the phrase “pics or it didn’t happen” definitely does not apply here.
Animals in the Polar Regions are indeed suffering—especially the bears. It looks like they will be remaining the mascots of the eco-movement for a little longer.