Two types of Arctic seals have now joined polar bears on the list of species threatened by the loss of sea ice.
Scientists reported that the sea ice reached record low levels this year due to climate warming.
Ringed seals, the main prey of polar bears, and Bearded seals in the Arctic Ocean will be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The listing of the seals came after federal scientists did an extensive review of scientific and commercial data. It has no effect on subsistence hunting by Alaska Natives. The loss of sea ice is mostly from greenhouse gases.
Ringed seals are the only seals that thrive in completely ice covered Arctic waters. They use stout claws to dig and maintain breathing holes.
When snow covers those holes, females excavate and make snow caves, where they give birth to pups that cannot survive in icy cold water and are susceptible to freezing until they grow a blubber layer. Hungry polar bears often catch breeding females or pups by collapsing those lairs. Decreasing snowfall, or rain falling on lairs instead of snow, is also a threat to seal survival.
Bearded seals, named for their thick whiskers, give birth and rear pups on the drifting pack ice over shallow water where prey like crab is abundant. When females give birth, they need ice to last long enough in the spring and early summer to successfully reproduce and molt.
While the Obama administration has acknowledged the threat, not enough is being done to limit greenhouse gas pollution that is behind the loss of sea ice. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA ) Fisheries decision affects four subspecies of ringed seals around the world.
Arctic Ocean seals off Alaska’s coast and seals on the Okhotsk and Baltic seas were listed as threatened. A subspecies in Lake Ladoga in northwest Russia was listed as endangered. The listing covered two subspecies of bearded seals: the Beringia population, which includes Alaska, and bearded seals in the Sea of Okhotsk.
Hopefully, we can take some further steps to reduce greenhouse gases enabling the reproduction and non-extinction of these beautiful Arctic animals.
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