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For Immediate Release, October 21, 2010

Contact:  Shaye Wolf, (415) 632-5301, (415) 385-5746

Obama Administration Denies Endangered Species Act Protection to Spotted Seals in Alaska
Grants Protection in China

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— Responding to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Obama administration today finalized Endangered Species Act protection for two small populations of spotted seals in China and Russia that are threatened by loss of sea ice but has denied protections for larger spotted seal populations suffering from sea-ice loss in Alaskan waters.

“While spotted seals in China certainly deserve protection, spotted seals in our own waters are also suffering from the rapid melting of the sea ice they depend on for survival,” said Shaye Wolf, the Center’s climate science director. “It’s absurd that the administration denied the spotted seal needed protections in Alaskan waters, where we can provide them the most help.”

Today’s decision formalizes protection for small populations in Liaodong Bay, China and Peter the Great Bay, Russia due to the threats from diminishing sea ice. But the finding, issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, reaffirmed the denial of  protection to more than 98 percent of the world’s spotted seals that inhabit Alaskan and Russian waters, claiming that declining sea ice does not threaten these populations. 

Spotted seals use the edge of the sea ice away from predators as safe habitat for giving birth and rearing their pups in winter and spring; loss, thinning and early breakup of the ice threaten the seals’ ability to raise young. Climate projections indicate that the spotted seal will lose 40 percent of its winter sea-ice habitat in the Bering and Okhotsk seas off Alaska and Russia by 2050. Yet the agency concluded that spotted seals in these waters will either adapt to a life on land or migrate to better habitat elsewhere.

“The Arctic is in rapid meltdown, yet the Obama administration refuses to acknowledge that sea-ice loss is jeopardizing the spotted seal in U.S. waters,” said Wolf. “While its rhetoric may be better, when it comes to action in protecting endangered species from climate change, the Obama administration is indistinguishable from Bush.”

The spotted seal also faces threats from increased oil and gas development. The Obama administration is currently deciding whether to go forward with a Bush-era plan to expand offshore oil and gas development in spotted ice seal habitat in Alaska.

In May 2008, the Center filed a petition to protect ice-dependent spotted seals, bearded seals and ringed seals under the Endangered Species Act due to threats from global warming and increasing oil development. Listing of the seals would not affect subsistence harvest by Alaska natives, which is exempted from the law’s prohibitions. The agency is required to make a finding on whether listing is warranted for the ringed and bearded seals by the end of the year. The Center is currently challenging the agency’s decision to deny Endangered Species Act protection to the ribbon seal.

For more information on the spotted seal and a link to the federal petition, please see: seals/index.html.



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