The fragile Arctic fauna at stake


“What disappoints me the most is humanity,” says famous photographer James Balog. “I am really, really angry. Really disgusted with the human race. That after so many centuries of apparent intellectual evolution, we cannot pull ourselves together and do what is right.”

In 2007, Balog founded the Extreme Ice Survey. The objective was to follow the evolution of the world’s glaciers using time-lapse cameras. The project was the subject of the critically acclaimed 2012 film Chase the ice. And the cameras are still working today. Balog says the changes recorded in the project are astounding and almost all of the ice you used to see is gone.

“I just find it depressing every day,” he said. “I kind of have to put this physically in a box in my psyche and not let it get to me because I don’t want to be depressed. I don’t want to be desperate, and I don’t want to drag the cart of anger. . “

Balog is part of a new fundraising project called Vital impacts. The conservation organization sells prints from 100 nature photographers. It aims to raise funds for the Big Life Foundation, the Roots and Shoots program of the Jane Goodall Institute, the Project Ranger of Great Plains Conservation and SeaLegacy.

A harp seal pup seeks shelter from the relentless winds that scour the pack ice covering the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Baby harp seals are born on the pack ice covering the Gulf of St. Lawrence in late February. They are breastfed for 12 to 15 days to increase their body fat before the mother abandons them to mate and migrate north. Puppies must learn to swim, eat, and learn what to eat on their own. Natural mortality is high and extremely high in years that reflect above normal temperatures that cause weak ice formation and early breakup under seals that are too young to survive.
Jennifer hayes

The project shows the natural world, from the Mongolian tundra and plains of Africa, to the open ocean and frozen landscapes of the Arctic and Antarctic.

Jennifer Hayes is a National geography photographer. She has worked with harp seals in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada, for over a decade. In 2011, Hayes was on a National geography mission and had spent several days documenting the harp seal nursery from above and below the ice.

“A storm was coming and our boat had to return to port. The wind sent the Gulf into a frenzy and the weak ice into pulverizing chaos,” she said. News week. “By the time we reached port, the puppies we had just documented had perished. This news prompted me to return to the ice every year that the ice permits.”

In 2012, she returned to tell the story of harp seals in the face of climate change. It was then that she took the photo of a baby seal hidden under a block of ice. “I was out on the pack ice looking for a mother and cubs and I discovered this baby harp seal behind a magnificent ice pyramid.

“The wind is relentless and the puppies will seek refuge behind any object of any size that offers them protection until their mother returns to breastfeed them. This image was taken in March. The pack ice was a patchwork of very large pieces of ice. held together by layers of frozen sleet which can be extremely solid or semi-solid depending on ambient temperatures. “

Hayes image of a baby seal, titled In search of shelter, is part of the Vital Impacts project.

polar bear
On a remote climbing expedition in Greenland, I was approached by a curious polar bear as I roamed the fjords in a small zodiac boat. The moment only lasted a brief second before the bear plunged into the frigid Arctic Sea. I hope this image transports people to arctic wilderness areas and creates an emotional connection with this fragile ecosystem.
Andy mann

The harp seal is one of the arctic species that is suffering from the receding sea ice. Normally, adults migrate to the area in the fall and give birth to young at the end of February. Mothers will suckle on the ice pack for up to 15 days before the puppy has to fend for itself.

This year, ice cover in the Gulf of St. Lawrence was almost non-existent. The National Snow and Ice Data Center said these conditions resulted in the deaths of many harp seal pups. With little sea ice, the puppies were forced to congregate on the shores where they were preyed upon. As the sea ice is lost, the number of harp seals is expected to decline.

Polar bears
This image represents a mother’s protective instinct and the affection, love and care of a mother as she protects her young in the harsh winter climate.
Marco ronconi

The disappearance of Arctic sea ice has been monitored since the 1970s. It is now lost at a rate of about 13% per decade compared to the 1981-2010 average. Arctic sea ice reaches its lowest point each year in September . The past 15 years represent the 15 lowest sea ice levels on record.

Habitat loss is expected to impact Arctic species, especially those that rely on sea ice for food. This includes polar bears, which were doomed to extinction as early as 2100, and Pacific walruses, which, after huge population gains as a result of conservation efforts, are in decline again.

It is believed that climate change is already affecting arctic whales, including beluga whales, narwhals and bowhead whales. They are believed to face increased threats in the years and decades to come, including increased predation by killer whales, as well as increased competition and changes in their prey. Changing ice conditions can also lead to more trapping, and as more arctic passages open up, there could be more ship collisions and pollution in the region.

A beluga dives under the ice floes in the Arctic.
Kiliii Yuyan

Balog says documenting the changes on the planet through photography and film is difficult, but necessary: ​​“I find that, like many others, I spend a lot of energy trying to distance ourselves emotionally. evolving around us, ”he said.

“At the same time, you have to use your awareness to act the best you can and whatever sphere you operate in. It’s that balancing act. I’m on the tightrope between letting in the emotions. me forward and say, okay, emotions, yeah, it’s not your day. I just gotta get the job done. “

He says his hope for the future lies in technology and its potential to bring about large-scale change. But he’s not convinced that will happen for a while, so he plans to continue offering a view of a world most people will never see on their own.

“We [the team working with Vital Impacts] are a little drop in the social bucket, but there is an amplification of our voices through things that we are able to use, “he said.” I have to hope that telling humanity a new story about itself can ultimately produce something positive. “

Vital impacts was founded by National geography photojournalist Ami Vitale and journalist Eileen Mignoni. It features fine art prints, the sale of which will support the Big Life Foundation, the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots and Shoots program, Great Plains Conservation’s Project Ranger and SeaLegacy. The fundraiser will last until December 31.

An iceberg in Greenland.
Jimmy chin

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