SAVING THE RIBBON SEAL
The uniquely patterned ribbon seal, long the most elusive and least understood of the true seals, is breathtakingly beautiful with its slender body, huge black eyes, and striking bands of white fur. It also has a special affinity for the ice, using the edge of the sea ice in Alaskan and Russian seas for rearing pups, molting, and resting. But as global warming accelerates, so does the alteration of the species’ sea-ice habitat. Without sufficient ice, this pretty pinniped will be more than elusive: It could be lost forever.
To ensure the ribbon seal’s perseverance, the Center submitted a petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service in December 2007 requesting federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Responding to our petition a few months later, the Fisheries Service announced that it would review the status of the ribbon seal, as well as that of three other ice-dependent seals. Unfortunately, in December 2008 the agency denied the ribbon seal protection, ignoring scientists’ disturbing predictions about the dramatic, near-future decline of its sea-ice habitat in the Bering and Okhotsk seas — so in summer 2009, we filed suit.
Though ribbon seals have always been threatened by many human activities, including shipping, oil and gas development, and even hunting, global warming is likely to prove the worst threat of all. If greenhouse gas emissions continue as usual, scientists say that sea ice in the seal’s range could decline 40 percent by mid-century, leading to widespread pup mortality.
Contact: Shaye Wolf
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