"It breaks my heart seeing this unfold," a Canadian photographer who captured the images said

By Claudia Harmata
October 03, 2019 01:28 PM
Rolf Hicker Photography

Heartbreaking images captured by Canadian photographer Rolf Hicker show the devastating impact of climate change on the Earth’s wildlife.

A few weeks back, Hicker photographed a grizzly bear family — a mother and her two cubs — near the shores of Canada’s Knight Inlet, according to CNN. The images immediately sparked concern when people noticed how emaciated the animals were.

“The bears are starving and it breaks my heart seeing this unfold,” the photographer wrote on Facebook. “We saw this sow with her two little ones a couple of weeks ago and then we saw her again only a few days ago. I have no idea how she would make it through the winter without salmon.”

The grizzly bear population has been struggling to find a food source, as salmon is at an all-time low, according to CNN. A preliminary report by Fisheries and Oceans Canada for 2019 confirms that the outlook for Pacific salmon has decreased from last year.

The cause? Many experts are pointing to climate change as a factor.

“The impacts of this climate change disaster has been coastwide,” Joy Thorkelson, president of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union, said at a press conference in September, according to CNN.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada also noted that “environmental conditions have been warmer than average… affecting all life stages of Pacific salmon returning in 2019.” In fact just last month, the rising temperatures caused a heatwave in neighboring Alaska that killed large numbers of salmon in the area due to heat stress.

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Many also claim open-net fish farming is another component, as the method is criticized for spreading diseases and polluting the water. Last December, the government of British Columbia put forward a plan to transition out of open-net farming by 2023.

As the salmon population continues to decrease, bears are often forced to relocate to new areas in search of food.

“They were approaching our camps, and we are seeing them in areas we rarely ever see bears,” Rick Snowdon, owner of Spirit of The West Adventures, told CNN. He added that he’s “seen several grizzlies with cubs” and that “they definitely looked lightweight.”

And as hibernation time approaches, female bears who enter the five- to seven-month sleep leaner than usual may emerge in the spring with fewer — and smaller — cubs, ultimately impacting their survival and the grizzly bear population, according to Parks Canada.

Two years ago, a startling photo of an emaciated polar bear spotted in Canada sparked similar concerns about wildlife food sources and habitats.

“It’s a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me, but I know we need to share both the beautiful and the heartbreaking if we are going to break down the walls of apathy,” photographer Paul Nicklen told National Geographic at the time. “This is what starvation looks like. The muscles atrophy. No energy. It’s a slow, painful death. When scientists say polar bears will be extinct in the next 100 years, I think of the global population of 25,000 bears dying in this manner.”