For Immediate Release, May 28, 2008
Contact: Brendan Cummings, (760) 366-2232 x 304
Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Three Arctic Seal Species
Ringed, Bearded, and Spotted Seals off Alaska Threatened by Global Warming
SAN FRANCISCO— Today the Center for Biological Diversity filed a scientific petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect three ice-dependent seals under the federal Endangered Species Act due to threats from global warming. The petition seeks to protect the ringed, bearded and spotted seals, which occur in the icy waters off Alaska in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas.
Today’s petition follows previous petitions by the Center seeking protection of the polar bear, Pacific walrus, and ribbon seal, Arctic marine mammals threatened by the loss of their sea-ice habitat in the face of global warming. The polar bear was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act on May 15, 2008. The Fisheries Service is currently reviewing the ribbon seal for listing under the Endangered Species Act, while its sister agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to respond to the walrus petition.
“While the polar bear may be the first Arctic species listed under the Endangered Species Act due to global warming, it will, unfortunately, not be the last. Arctic sea ice is melting so rapidly in the face of global warming that every ice-dependent marine mammal is imperiled and needs the protections of the Endangered Species Act,” said Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity and lead author of the petition.
The ringed, bearded, and spotted seals differ in their use of sea ice, but all are dependent upon it for important life stages. The ringed seal is the most widespread marine mammal in the ice-covered regions of the Northern Hemisphere and the smallest and most ice-adapted of all northern seals. The ringed seal inhabits landfast ice during the winter and spring breeding season and has the ability to make and maintain breathing holes in thick ice and to excavate lairs in snowdrifts over breathing holes, which it uses for resting, giving birth, and nursing pups during spring. Bearded seals reproduce and haul out primarily on drifting pack ice over shallow continental shelf waters where the ice is in constant motion producing leads, polynyas, and other openings. Spotted seals primarily breed on the sea-ice front of the Bering Sea in spring, and move to coastal habitats in the Chukchi Sea during the ice-free season in summer and fall.
The sea-ice habitat of the ringed, bearded, and spotted seal is threatened by rapid warming that is occurring at a pace that is exceeding the predictions of the most advanced climate models. Arctic surface temperatures increased twice as much as the global average during the 20th century. Winter sea-ice extent in 2006 and 2007 declined to a minimum that most climate models forecast would not be reached until 2070, and summer sea-ice extent in 2007 plummeted to a record minimum which most climate models forecast would not be reached until 2050.
In addition to loss of sea-ice habitat from global warming, these seals face threats from increased oil and gas development in their habitat and the proliferation of shipping routes in the increasingly ice-free Arctic.
“With rapid action to reduce carbon dioxide, methane, and black carbon emissions, combined with a moratorium on new oil-and-gas development and shipping routes in the Arctic, we can still save the ringed, bearded and spotted seals, as well as the polar bear and all other Arctic species,” said Brendan Cummings, oceans program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Unfortunately, the Bush administration is doing just the opposite.”