A polar bear carcass found on the Arctic island of Svalbard, the northernmost part of Norway, has shocked experts who say climate change may be to blame for the animal's death.
The starved polar bear in Norway was said to be in good health in April when the Norwegian Polar Institute examined and tagged it. However, the animal was reduced to skin and bones by the time a group of explorers happened upon its body in July.
"From his lying position in death the bear appears to simply have starved and died where he dropped," polar bear expert Dr. Ian Stirling, an adjunct professor at the University of Alberta, told The Guardian. "He had no external suggestion of any remaining fat, having been reduced to little more than skin and bone."
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According to Norway's The Local, Stirling believes the bear starved to death as a result of a lack of sea ice, which the animals use as a platform for hunting seals. That may also explain why the 16-year-old male bear was found about 155 miles north of where it was seen in April.
"We had to push up until 550 miles from the North Pole before we found any sea ice, which was kind of rotten," Global Warming Images' Ashley Cooper, who was part of the expedition that discovered the starved bear, told the blog. "It was very patchy and broken up and thin, only just about holding the weight of a polar bear."
Scientists have warned of the potentially dire effects of climate change, including the spread of infectious diseases and the increased likelihood of extreme weather. However, if the polar bear did, in fact, die due to reduced sea ice, the carcass may be one of the most literal illustrations of climate change.
Speaking to NBC News, Cooper warned that all polar bears may meet the same fate in the next 10 to 20 years.
"There isn’t a future for them unless we can very rapidly get on top of climate change," he told the outlet.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature currently classifies polar bears as vulnerable on its Red List of Threatened Species.