For Immediate Release, December 20, 2007

Contact: Shaye Wolf, (415) 436-9682 x 301 or (415) 385-5746 (mobile)
Brendan Cummings, (760) 366-2232 x 304 or (951) 768-8301 (mobile)

Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for the Ribbon Seal:
Bering Sea Ice Seal Threatened by Global Warming

SAN FRANCISCO— Today the Center for Biological Diversity filed a scientific petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect the ribbon seal under the federal Endangered Species Act due to threats from global warming.

“The Arctic is in a crisis state from global warming,” said Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity and lead author of the petition. “An entire ecosystem is rapidly melting away and the ribbon seal is poised to become the first victim of our failure to address global warming.”

The ribbon seal is dependent on Arctic sea ice for survival. During the late winter through early summer, ribbon seals rely on the edge of the sea ice in the Bering and Okhotsk Seas off Alaska and Russia as safe habitat for giving birth and as a nursery for their pups. But this winter sea-ice habitat is rapidly disappearing. If current ice-loss trends from global warming continue, the ribbon seal faces likely extinction by the end of the century.

The ribbon seal’s winter sea-ice habitat is projected to decline 40 percent by mid-century under recent greenhouse gas emissions trends. Any remaining sea ice will be much thinner and unlikely to last long enough for the ribbon seals to finish rearing their pups, leading to widespread pup mortality.

Disturbingly, warming in the Arctic is occurring at a rapid pace that is exceeding the predictions of the most advanced climate models. Summer sea-ice extent in 2007 plummeted to a record minimum, which most climate models forecast would not be reached until 2050, while winter sea ice declined to a minimum in 2007 that most climate models forecast would not be reached until 2070.

In addition to loss of its sea-ice habitat from global warming, the ribbon seal faces threats from increased oil and gas development in its 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 ribbon seal, the polar bear, and the Arctic ecosystem,” added Wolf. “But the window of opportunity to act is closing rapidly.”

The ribbon seal is the most decoratively patterned of all seals. While the pups are pure white, the adults have black fur wrapped in white circles, resembling a panda.

“Why does the ribbon seal have its stripes? Probably to make it less visible to underwater predators,” explains ribbon seal biologist Carleton Ray from the University of Virginia. “But this beautiful, charismatic species may soon become totally invisible should its spring reproductive habitat of sea ice continue to diminish, as climate models predict.”


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