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Global warming: Citing shrinking sea ice, feds list several Arctic seal species as threatened and endangered

Listing decision underscores climate-change threats to Arctic ecosystems

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Bearded seals are vulnerable to shrinking sea ice, declining snow cover. Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Recognizing that the best available science suggests a significant loss of Arctic sea ice in the next few decades, federal biologists last week finalized Endangered Species Act protection for two species of ice-dependent seals.

NOAA will list as threatened the Beringia and Okhotsk populations of bearded seals, and the Arctic, Okhotsk, and Baltic subspecies of ringed seals. The Ladoga subspecies of ringed seals will be listed as endangered. The species that exist in U.S. waters (Arctic ringed seals and the Beringia population of bearded seals) are already protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“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.” Continue reading

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Climate: Dim outlook for ringed seals as sea ice dwindles

Ringed seals face an uncertain future in the rapidly warming Arctic. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Endangered pinnipeds could lose 70 percent of their breeding habitat this century

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A citizen petition requesting endangered species protection for ringed seals has resulted in some fundamental research on sea ice and snowpack, and the results are not good news for the seals.

Shrinking sea ice extent means that more than two thirds of the area with sufficient snow cover for ringed seals to reproduce also will disappear, according to the study published the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Ringed seals build caves to rear their young in snow drifts on sea ice. They need at least eight inches of snow to construct the breeding shelters.

“It’s an absolute condition they need,” said Cecilia Bitz, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington. But without sea ice, the platform that allows the snow to pile up disappears, ultimately reducing the area where the seals can raise their pups, said Bitz, who typically focuses on studying the area and thickness of sea ice. Continue reading

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