Four subspecies of ringed seals and two distinct population segments of bearded seals have now been listed under the Endangered Species Act.
To be specific, the Beringia and Okhotsk populations of bearded seals have now been listed as threatened, along with the Arctic, Okhotsk, and Baltic subspecies of ringed seals. While the Ladoga subspecies of ringed seals will be listed as endangered. “The species that exist in U.S. waters are already protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.”
“This science-based listing decision will not result in any immediate restrictions on human activities; however, Federal agencies that permit or fund projects that may affect a listed species must consult with NOAA Fisheries to ensure the existence of the species is not jeopardized. In addition, this listing will have no impact on the subsistence harvest of ice seals by Alaska Natives, a practice that is central to the traditional culture and nutrition in many Alaskan Native coastal communities.”
“Our scientists undertook an extensive review of the best scientific and commercial data. They concluded that a significant decrease in sea ice is probable later this century and that these changes will likely cause these seal populations to decline,” said Jon Kurland, protected resources director for NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska region. “We look forward to working with the State of Alaska, our Alaska Native co-management partners, and the public as we work toward designating critical habitat for these seals.”
“Ringed seals nurse and protect their pups in snow caves, which are threatened by late ice formation in the fall, rain-on-snow events in the late winter, earlier break-up of spring ice, as well as decreasing snow depths, which are projected to be too shallow for snow cave formation by the end of the century. Both ringed seals and bearded seals rely on sea ice for extended periods during molting, and bearded seals live on sea ice during critical months for breeding, whelping, and nursing. Sea ice is projected to shrink both in extent and duration, with bearded seals finding inadequate ice even if they move north.”
Image Credits: Michael Cameron, NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center