For Immediate Release, June 4, 2009
Contact: Rebecca Noblin, (907) 274-1110
Lawsuit Announced to Protect Arctic Seals Threatened by Global Warming
Obama Administration Ignores Legal Duty to
Ringed, Bearded, and Spotted Seals
ANCHORAGE, Alaska— This week the Center for Biological Diversity notified the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of its intent to file suit against the agency for delaying protection of Arctic seals under the Endangered Species Act. In May 2008 the Center filed a petition to protect the ice-dependent ringed, bearded, and spotted seals under the Act due to threats from global warming and increasing oil development in their habitat. In September 2008, the agency found that the three seal species may deserve Endangered Species Act protection but has subsequently failed to make a decision on whether the species warrant legal protection within the one-year deadline provided by the statute.
This week’s 60-day notice of intent to sue is a legally required precursor before a lawsuit can be filed to compel the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to comply with the law.
“The Arctic is in crisis due to global warming,” said Rebecca Noblin, with the Center in Anchorage. “An entire ecosystem is rapidly melting away, and we risk losing not only the polar bear but the ice seals and other ice-dependent species if we do not take immediate action to address global warming.”
Ringed, bearded, and spotted seals use the sea ice in slightly different ways, but each depends on the sea ice for giving birth, rearing pups, and resting. Ringed seals, which are the primary prey for polar bears, excavate snow caves on sea ice to provide hidden, insulated shelters for themselves and their pups. The early breakup of sea ice destroys these snow sanctuaries, resulting in increased deaths of pups. Bearded seals, which are distinctive for their mustachioed appearance and their elaborate courtship songs, give birth and rear their pups on drifting pack ice over shallow waters, where their bottom-dwelling prey is abundant. The early retreat of the sea ice off the food-rich shallow shelves decreases food availability for these seals. Spotted seals, whose longer noses give them a dog-like appearance, rely on the edge of the sea ice away from predators as safe habitat for giving birth and as a nursery for their pups. Loss of sea ice and early sea-ice breakup threaten these seals’ ability to successfully rear their young.
In addition to loss of sea ice from global warming, these seals face threats from increased oil and gas development in their habitat and the proliferation of shipping routes in an increasingly ice-free Arctic. Both activities bring heightened risk of oil spills and rising levels of noise pollution and other kinds of human disturbance.
“With rapid action to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, combined with a moratorium on new oil and gas development in the Arctic, we can still save the ice seals and other Arctic wildlife,” Noblin said. “If the ice seals are to survive, we need to protect their habitat, rather than converting it into a polluted industrial zone.”
Listing of the seals would not affect subsistence harvest of these seals by Alaska natives, which is exempted from the law’s prohibitions.
The Center has also filed petitions seeking protection of the polar bear, Pacific walrus, and ribbon seal from melting sea ice and other effects of global warming. The polar bear was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act on May 15, 2008. The Bush administration denied listing of the ribbon seal in December 2008, a decision the Center will shortly challenge in court. An overdue decision on the Center’s walrus petition is now due on September 10, 2009, pursuant to a settlement of a previous Center lawsuit.
Last week the Center also filed suit against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration over the agency’s failure to meet legal deadlines with regard to Center petitions to protect sea turtles threatened by global warming and industrial fisheries.
“Unfortunately the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has shown the same disregard for the law under the Obama administration as it did under Bush,” said Noblin. “Federal officials should not be allowed to view compliance with legal deadlines as optional.”
For more information on ringed, bearded, and spotted seals and a link to the federal petition, please see: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/mammals/bearded_ringed_and_spotted seals/index.html.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with 220,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.