Photography

National Geographic’s most-liked Instagram pictures of 2017 are both beautiful and heartbreaking

The devastation wreaked by climate change forms the subtext in many of the images.

It is a heart-wrenching image of the damage wreaked by climate change: an emaciated polar bear in the north of Canada dragging its feet, desperately searching for food in a garbage bin, before lying down, seemingly hours away from its death.

The photograph, along with an emotional video, was shot by Cristina Mittermeier and Paul Nicklen on Somerset Island, now an ice-less land. Explaining their inability to help the starving animal, the photographers said that it would have needed hundred pounds of meat to survive. So what they did instead “was push through our tears, knowing that this footage was going to help connect a global audience to the biggest issue facing us as a species today”.

Mittermeier and Nicklen’s image is among 18 photographs that were liked the most on National Geographic’s Instagram handle in the year gone by.

Photo by @CristinaMittermeier // This is what a starving polar bear looks like. Weak muscles, atrophied by extended starvation could barely hold him up. Our @Sea_Legacy team watched as he painfully staggered towards the abandoned fishing camp from which we were observing and found some trash to eat—a piece of foam from the seat of a snowmobile, as we later found out. People have asked why we couldn’t help it, why we didn’t feed it. In addition to being illegal to feed wildlife, polar bears like this one need several hundred pounds of meat to survive. They primarily eat seals and they struggle when they are stranded for long periods of time on land, without a sea ice platform from which to hunt. We didn’t have a weapon and we didn’t have any food. There literally was nothing we could do for him as we were hundreds of miles from the nearest Inuit community. What could we have done? What we did do was push through our tears knowing that this footage was going to help connect a global audience to the biggest issue facing us as a species today. It is true that we don’t know what caused this animal to starve but we are certain that unless we curb carbon emissions, sea ice will continue to disappear and many more bears will starve. With these images, we want to wake the world up to the imminence of climate change and to how it will affect wildlife and people for decades to come. For solutions on how each and everyone can make a positive impact on this planet #follow me at @CristinaMittermeier or go to @Sea_Legacy. #nature #naturelovers #bethechange #FaceofClimateChange #StopFossilFuels #NoArcticDrilling #TurningtheTide with @SeaLegacy. With @PaulNicklen and our entire team. Thank you @natgeo for helping us try and reach the world.

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Credit: Cristina Mittermeier | National Geographic.

Fear and apprehension is apparent in Mittermeier’s image, as also in Jayaprakash Bojan’s portrait of an Orangutan in Borneo, Indonesia, as the endangered ape tries to find its way in a crocodile-infested river. The spectacular picture won Bojan the Nature Photographer of the Year contest, and had more than 1.6 million likes on Instagram.

Credit: Jayaprakash Bojan| National Geographic.

With 1.9 million likes, it is an image taken by conservation photographer Charlie Hamilton James, though, that topped National Geographic’s list. In the Amazon rainforests, James shot a striking portrait of Kauai, a young boy from the Awa tribe, posing with a baby monkey perched atop his head.

Credit: Charlie Hamilton James | National Geographic.

Among other photographs on the list is Brian Skerry’s picture of two harp seal pups seen sharing a warm moment on a mass of ice in the sea.

Photo by @BrianSkerry. Harp Seal Pups Kissing!  Two harp seal pups meet each other on the pack ice of Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence, touching noses as they sniff one another. Pups are generally born in this region during February, spending about two weeks nursing from their mothers before heading off into the frigid arctic waters on their own. The decline of sea ice over the last decade has created a serious crisis for these animals, as pup mortality rates have increased substantially. If the climate continues to warm and sea ice disappears, the future is uncertain for this species. To see more ocean wildlife, and to learn more about my experiences photographing for National Geographic, follow me, @BrianSkerry, on Instagram. @thephotosociety @natgeocreative #harp #seal #pup #canada #arctic #ice #photooftheday #nationalgeographic #natgeo #harpseal #climatechange #globalwarming #instagood #followme #follow #saveouroceans #ocean #photography #travelphoto #wonderlust #travelphotographer

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Credit: Brian Skerry | National Geographic.

A crab rests on top of grey-coloured marine iguanas in Thomas Peschak’s photograph, which was accompanied by the caption: “Galapagos marine iguanas live on the edge – the difference between life and death is a few degrees of temperature. The world’s only ocean going lizards graze on cold water seaweeds. Increases in sea temperature have detrimental effects on marine iguana populations. No seaweed=No iguanas.”

Credit: Thomas Peschak | National Geographic.

In Frans Lanting’s photograph, a male cougar, with menacing green eyes, stares into the camera. Eye to Eye was posted on World Animal Day on October 4, with a caption that described Lanting’s process: “When I photograph animals I try to bring out their personalities just as people photographers do that with their subjects. In Belize [Central America] I spent several hours with this magnificent male cougar before he relaxed to a dreamy pose that I felt captured his mood.”

Photo by @FransLanting “Eye to Eye” Inside every animal is an individual with its own emotions and needs. When I photograph animals I try to bring out their personalities just as people photographers do that with their subjects. In Belize I spent several hours with this magnificent male cougar before he relaxed to a dreamy pose that I felt captured his mood. I share this image to recognize World Animal Day, October 4—a day of action for animal rights and welfare. The date coincides with the feast day for Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. Follow me @FransLanting for more images of the other beings on the great tree of life. @natgeotravel @thephotosociety @natgeocreative #cougar #mountainLion #puma #bigcats #photooftheday #picoftheday #nature #beauty #naturelovers #animal #wildlife #worldanimalday

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Credit: Frans Lanting | National Geographic.

Amidst the abundant imagery of animals, natural phenomena too manage a few spots. Jimmy Chin’s photograph of the total solar eclipse in August, amassed over 1.7 million likes.

Credit: Jimmy Chin | National Geographic.

Andy Mann’s photograph, meanwhile, captures the wave rise in Selvagem Pequena Island in the Western Sahara territory. The “sea monster” rise takes the shape of a mountain with a snow-capped glistening peak.

Credit: Andy Mann | National Geographic.
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