They could almost be sleeping.
Lying in this cold island, blanketed in fog, two polar bear cubs lie within a few yards of each other. Abandoned, starved, silent in death.
It's about the saddest thing you could ever see.
Lågøya, Low Island, is a flat slab of crumbling dolomite somewhere north of 80° latitude, in Svalbard's Northeast Lands. A few dozen runty reindeer call it home, a marginally less inhospitable home than the surrounding bleak wastes at the northern edge of their domain.
Walrus haul out on the beach here too, a mountain of flash and ivory tusks. Maybe that's what drew the cubs' mother here, in some desperate attempt to pull down some larger, stronger prey. If she had died on land, the cubs would have stayed by her side, mewling and crying until they fell still. She may have died on the ice, or simply walked away when the cubs faltered. There's simply no way to know what happened.
In the end, the cubs had only each other.
An arctic fox may find them soon, or another polar bear sniffing for carrion. This is an unforgiving, unsentimental land.
For now, they lay almost untouched, their eyes closed, fur coats damp with the mist, sleeping on.
August 10, 2009 - Lågøya Island, Nordaustlandet, Svalbard