Polar bear 'cradled' by ice: the moving testimony of global warming

A photo promises to become an icon of the transformation of the Arctic, winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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Polar bear 'cradled' by ice: the moving testimony of global warming
© Credit Nima Sarikhani / Peoples Choice Award di Wildlife Photographer of the Year

One of the most iconic photos of recent years was taken of a polar bear asleep on a small drifting iceberg, which seems to cradle the animal. A photo that will become a symbol in the fight against climate change and the resulting global warming.

A photo that promises to become an icon of the transformation of the Arctic, winner of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award, promoted by the BBC Wildlife Magazine and the Natural History Museum in London.

The photo, titled Ice Bed, sees a white bear sleeping in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, taken by Nima Sarikhani.

Douglas Gurr, director of the Natural History Museum in London, explained: "It is an image that allows us to see the beauty and fragility of our planet. It is a provocative image, which recalls the bond between an animal and its habitat and which at the same time represents the dangerous impacts of global warming and habitat loss."

How many polar bears remain?

The polar bear lives in the Arctic and its habitat is included in 6 countries: Canada - Manitoba, Newfoundland, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Ontario, Quebec, Yukon - USA, Alaska, Russia, Greenland, Norway, Svalbard, Iceland. The current population of polar bears is estimated at around 20-25,000, of which 60% is in Canada.

The polar bear is an alpha predator, so being at the top of the food chain it has few enemies. Naturally, man remains the real danger for this species: every year more than 1000 bears are killed, both by the Eskimos, who feed on their meat and exploit their fur, and by simple hunters.

Polar bears' thermal insulation is extremely effective against the cold, but their bodies overheat at temperatures above 10°C. Their insulation is so effective that, when viewed with an infrared camera, they are barely visible. Only the paws and muzzle emit perceptible heat.

An interesting characteristic of fur is that, when photographed with ultraviolet light, it appears black: it therefore has, as a further mechanism of production of thermal energy, a high capacity to absorb UV frequencies; this is possible by having black skin.