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Polar bear sleeping on tiny iceberg drifting in Arctic sea captured in heartbreaking photo


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British amateur photographer Nima Sarikhani captured the scene off the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, which sits deep inside the Arctic Circle, around 500 miles (800 kilometers) from the North Pole. The image was crowned the winner of this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year People's Choice Award.

After three days of desperately searching for polar bears (Ursus maritimus) through thick fog, the expedition vessel that Sarikhani was on changed course and sailed southeast toward some sea ice. There, the crew spotted two polar bears — a younger and an older male. Just before midnight, as the ship hovered close to the bears, the younger one climbed onto a small iceberg and carved out a bed with his paws before drifting off to sleep.

"Nima's heartbreaking and poignant image allows us to see the beauty and fragility of our planet," Douglas Gurr, director of the Natural History Museum, said in the statement. "His thought-provoking image is a stark reminder of the integral bond between an animal and its habitat and serves as a visual representation of the detrimental impacts of climate warming and habitat loss."

An estimated 26,000 polar bears remain in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, and they are considered vulnerable to extinction.

There were other interesting contenders for Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

It's difficult to say what would happen with these bears. I don't know if they were just out at sea and stranded on icebergs or what. I've heard similar stories in the past.