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Grizzly Bear Family Photographed Starved, Searching For Food That's Not There

Photos of an emaciated mother bear and her two cubs desperately searching for food has sparked dire concern for the effect of climate change on Canada's wildlife.

Photographer and tour boat operator Rolf Hicker captured the distressing images near the water's edge of Knight Inlet in British Columbia late last month.

"Worst Salmon run here in the Broughton in history I read today," Hicker said in a Facebook post.

"I fully believe it. I have not seen a single salmon in a river so far. The bears are starving and it breaks my heart seeing this unfold."

"We saw this sow with her two little ones a couple of weeks ago and then we saw her again only a few days ago. I have no idea how she would make it through the winter without salmon."

The set of photos, which clearly show the gaunt bodies and faces of the grizzly family, are a bleak reminder of the dwindling salmon numbers within the area's waterways.

In September, First Nation and union leaders called on Canada's federal and provincial governments to help fishermen through what they are describing as the worst commercial fishing season in 50 years.

Experts are putting the declining salmon numbers -- which are the bears' main food source -- down to the warming climate.

A report released by the Fisheries and Oceans Canada in August revealed the country's climate is warming twice as fast as the global average -- directly impacting the ecosystems salmon rely on.

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Image: Rolf Hicker/Facebook

There are doubts the alarmingly thin bears will survive hibernation.

Grizzly bears typically settling in for the long sleep around November, before emerging five to seven months later.

During this time, they rely on the fat built up during the summer and autumn months to stay alive.

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Image: Rolf Hicker/Facebook
Image: Rolf Hicker/Facebook

The viral photos are perhaps best put into perspective by the contrasting images of bears being shared for Fat Bear Week -- the "Olympics of obesity" held by Alaska's Katmai National Park and Preserve.

Running from October 2 to 8, the contest sees punters vote for their favourite brown bears who have bulked up within the park ahead of hibernation.

While the Canadian grizzlies are struggling, it appears their northern neighbours are putting on adequate pounds for the winter.