For polar bears residing on Norway's Svalbard Islands, food supply appears to be rapidly losing pace with demand, The Dodo reports. And for the females, thin is in, although that's certainly not what nature intended. In a Facebook post, wildlife photographer Kerstin Langenberger recently aired her concerns about the growing number of gaunt polar bears she's seen in the Arctic archipelago. Her photo of an emaciated female polar bear stunningly exemplifies the perilous dietary plight facing mothers and cubs, in particular. "I realized that the fat bears are nearly exclusively males, which stay on the pack ice all year long," Langenberger writes. "The females, on the other hand, which den on land to give birth to their young, are often slim. With the pack ice retreating further and further north every year, they tend to be stuck on land where there's not much food."
The summer ice pack is crucial for polar bear to hunt their primary meal: seals. Since polar bears aren't accomplished swimmers, standing on the ice allows them to trap seals at the frigid water's surface. Females with less access to the dwindling ice must resort to fewer nourishing food sources, such as snow geese, caribou, and even moss. "Only a few times I have seen beautifully fat mothers with beautifully fat young," Langenberger continues. "Many times I have seen horribly thin bears, and those were exclusively females - like this one here. A mere skeleton, hurt on her front leg, possibly by a desperate attempt to hunt a walrus while she was stuck on land." She raises her anecdotal concerns amid a debate about polar bears' long-term livelihood. While some scientists and studies claim global warming-induced ice melt is imminently threatening the Arctic species, others point to population growth as a sign that all is well. Still, on the Svalgard Islands, where Langenberger's photo was taken, there seems to be little denial that the polar bear's cupboards are disconcertingly bare. In August, Canadian biologist Ian Stirling told the National Post, “(T)here is simply not enough to eat on land to support so many large bears.”