SAVING THE BEARDED, RINGED AND SPOTTED SEALS
With their backward-turned rear flippers and blubbery bodies, Arctic pinnipeds like the bearded, ringed and spotted seals can look clumsy — though charming — as they wriggle across the ice. But in the ocean, where they spend much of their time, they’re as graceful and athletic as can be. Still, no seal can always be in the water; Arctic seals need the ice’s solid surface to carry out basic survival activities, from resting to molting to raising young. So as sea ice dwindles due to global warming, so does the hope for these seals’ long-term survival.
Winter sea ice in the Bering, Okhotsk and Barents seas — prime habitat for bearded, ringed and spotted seals — is projected to decline by at least 40 percent by midcentury. To make sure these beautiful mammals have ice on which to haul out, in May 2008 the Center filed a scientific petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service requesting that all three species be listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. A few months later, the Fisheries Service reacted positively to the petition, announcing it would decide whether the seals merit federal protection by May 2009, and after we sued, in late 2012 the Fisheries Service at last finalized protections for the bearded and ringed seals, two years later proposing protections for what could be the largest area of critical habitat in history: more than 226 million acres. Unfortunately, the spotted seal was denied those protections in the United States, granted safeguards only in China and Russia.
Global warming is scary news for seals in many more ways than one. Besides degrading and eliminating necessary sea-ice habitat, warming depletes their prey, makes them more vulnerable to predators and disease, and leads to increased shipping activity (which brings with it even more dangers). Add to all this the ever-increasing threats of oil and gas development, hunting, pollution and commercial fishery bycatch, and the implications are overwhelming. All three of these Arctic seals need federal protection based on the threat of global warming alone.