Ice-Dwelling Seals Eyed as Threatened Species from Climate Change
Tuesday, 7 December 2010
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proposed ringed seals in the Arctic Basin and North Atlantic and bearded seals in the Pacific Ocean be protected under the Endangered Species Act. There would be four subspecies of ringed seals and two of bearded seals listed. Both seals depend on ice, or ice floes, as a hunting platform for fish, as well as a place to give birth to their pups. Yet these floes are melting and are expected to continue to melt. “It’s a clear indication that climate change is happening and it’s affecting habitat,” said NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service’s Julie Speegle. Bearded seals eat small prey found along the ocean floor, like squid and clams, so relocating from sea ice to land would endanger their ability to maintain an adequate food supply. Ringed seals are the primary prey for polar bears and dig hiding holes in the ice to escape. The Endangered Species Act had been signed into law in 1973 to shelter species in danger of extinction as a “consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation.” NOAA climate models were used to predict future diminishing ice loss conditions. The government agency has a year to finalize its decision on designating the seals as a threatened species, which would require government agencies to take steps to increase the sea mammals’ population and ensure that federal and commercial businesses, like gas, oil and shipping, don’t further affect their habitat.