This Polar Bear Video is as Heartbreaking as it is Amazing

A stunning short video on GoPro’s YouTube channel offers a glimpse into the secret lives of a family of polar bears on a quest to find sea ice, but also serves as a sad reminder of their plight in a changing climate.

The footage was taken by filmmaker Adam Ravetch of Arctic Bear Productions, who is also co-founder of the Arctic Exploration Fund, an organization that’s dedicated to discovering and documenting how wild animals in the Arctic are responding to a changing climate.

Ravetch has also been working in collaboration with Anthony Pagano, a research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey studying how polar bears are responding to a loss of sea ice. The agency also released footage showing life from a polar bear’s point of view earlier this month as part of the USGS Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative, which will help guide conservation efforts for polar bears in the future.

As researchers note, while their locations have been monitored in the field, there hasn’t been much behavior seen. With video collars that can survive the cold temperatures now being added to scientists’ toolkits, they can now observe more about life from a polar bear’s perspective.

Earlier this month Ravetch told the New York Times that the cameras have helped scientists find out more about what polar bears are up to and has led to some interesting discoveries, including the revelation that they really like berries, which were thought to have little nutritional value for them:

So far we’ve seen clips of the bears resting, swimming, exhibiting breeding behavior (wrestling), playing and eating a seal. In more deployments, with accelerometers attached to the cameras to record the animals’ movements in detail, the scientist will be able to paint an accurate picture of a bear’s energy output, year-round, correlated with the activity they are exhibiting.

How do they expend energy differently from summer to fall? Now we will be able to see it. How many seals do they actually catch and eat year round? Now we will see their feeding behavior. Do they follow the diminishing ice or head to land? Now we can see it.

Hopefully their work can lead to helping them survive in the future. Polar bears, who have become the poster animals for climate change, are currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which cites their numbers between 20,000 and 25,000. Still there’s no solid estimate of these bears who continue to face the threat of losing ice that’s essential to their survival. They’re already believed to be starving and drowning because they have to swim longer distances to reach ice.

Sadly, the U.S. Geological Survey predicts that two-thirds of all polar bears, including all bears in Alaska, could be extinct by 2050 if current trends continue.

Even with normal seasonal changes aside, the overall decline of sea ice in the arctic is so drastic that new maps need to be made, as Care2′s Kevin Mathews pointed out in a recent article about the next edition of the National Geographic Atlas of the World. The new atlas is expected out in September and will include one of the most visible changes in the earth we’ve seen so far. Images from NASA offer an idea of what can be expected.

Images showing the Arctic sea ice minimum in September of 1979 (the year satellites started recording sea ice extent) and in September of 2011. (Credit: NASA)

According to NASA, if current trends continue the Arctic could be totally ice-free in summer before the end of this century. Meanwhile, conservationists continue to fight for greater protections for polar bears and push for tougher regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions and reduce carbon levels to curb the consequences of climate change on our environment.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

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Carole R.
Carole R.2 months ago

What a great video. The poor polar bears. They just have to survive.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven4 months ago

thanks for the article.

Warren Webber
Warren Webber10 months ago

Live long and prosper!

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Croweabout a year ago

Polar Bears are so interesting - it would be a true shame to see them go extinct.

Mark Donners
Mark Donnersabout a year ago

Dan B is clearly a propaganda specialist paid off by the fossil fuel industry: where did you become the climate expert for the oil companies, is that what the little caricature of an idiot in glasses and lab coat is supposed to convince. Your observation was "Not much change in ice", eh? Land ice (what's important for the health of the earth and what will raise the ocean levels) IS disappearing from the earth in massive quantities.

Results of satellite measurements which have measured ice loss in all of Earth's land ice between 2003 and 2010: The total global ice mass lost from Greenland, Antarctica and Earth's glaciers and ice caps in that period was about 4.3 trillion tons (1,000 cubic miles), adding about 0.5 inches (12 millimeters) to global sea level. That's enough ice to cover the United States 1.5 feet (0.5 meters) deep.

About a quarter of the average annual ice loss came from glaciers and ice caps outside of Greenland and Antarctica (148 billion tons, or 39 cubic miles). Ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica and their peripheral ice caps and glaciers averaged 385 billion tons (100 cubic miles) a year.

Vicky Slay
Vicky Slayabout a year ago

Polar Bears are on the decline and the ice has receded. How can anyone argue those facts and call it exaggeration. We have undergone a whole climate change just in the type of weather we now experience, another fact. It is urgent to start planning for a future to control these horrible outcomes. President Obama knows that we are going through climate change, so no wonder the GOPs deny climate change and fill people full of a lot of propaganda which they believe to be true instead of the true facts. We need to change to stop this disaster, but China is a large problem when it comes to air pollution. This has to be a United Nations move to get other countries involved in cleaning this planet up. So much work to do and so little time.

KAROLY MOLINARIabout a year ago

So sad it breaks my heart

Yuri Melnikov
Yuri Melnikovabout a year ago

PORTUGUÊS: Urso polar é um animal "sui generis" que não deve nem pode desaparecer do mapa embora seu habitat fique cada vez mais reduzido e as condições para sobrevivência são cada vez menores. Não quero que este animal nobre desapareça porque o nosso Planeta vai ficar mais empobrecido!!!;;;;;

Yuri Melnikov
Yuri Melnikovabout a year ago

PORTUGUÊS: Urso polar é um animal "sui generis" que não deve nem pode desaparecer do mapa embora seu habitat fique cada vez mais reduzido e as condições para sobrevivência são cada vez menores. Não quero que este animal nobre desapareça porque o nosso Planeta vai ficar mais empobrecido!!!;;;;;

Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeldabout a year ago

Paul b.,
Agreed. Polar bears were over hunted through the 60s, until the international ban was enacted. Their numbers have rebounded since, and are still growing today. Most alarmists point to a single subpopulation that has declined as their evidence. The decline is due mostly to human interaction. Very few polar bears drown. Those that do are usual old or trapped in a storm. Some people like to USS this typical behavior as some sort of impetus for unneeded action.
Also, the reports of an ice-free Arctic by 2013 have been greatly exaggerated. Similar to Himalayan glaciers disappearing by 2035. Climate modeller need to take notes from scientists who do field work. Making long-term projections from short- term data is not a wise venture.