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For Immediate Release, March 31, 2009


Shaye Wolf, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 632-5301
Jane Kochersperger, Greenpeace, (202) 680-3798 cell

Suit to Be Filed to Protect Arctic Seal Threatened by Global Warming
Flawed Bush-era Decision Ignored Science in Denying
Endangered Species Act Protection to Ribbon Seals

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— The Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace today notified the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of their intent to file suit against the agency for denying necessary protections under the Endangered Species Act for the ribbon seal despite clear scientific evidence that the species is threatened by global warming. The ribbon seal, an ice-dependent species of the Bering, Chukchi, and Okhotsk seas off Alaska and Russia, is threatened by global warming and the consequent loss of its sea-ice habitat, as well as recent decisions to open its habitat to oil development. 

In response to a 2007 legal petition by the Center for Biological Diversity, the agency concluded in December 2008 that the ribbon seal did not warrant Endangered Species Act protection because sufficient sea ice would remain in the seal’s habitat for the species to survive at least until mid-century. The agency’s conclusions, however, ignored numerous studies by independent scientists and were not supported by its own data.

“The science is clear that global warming is threatening the ribbon seal with extinction,” said Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This decision was a parting shot from the Bush administration, emblematic of the disregard for science under that administration, and it must be reversed. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cannot take a head-in-the-sand approach to global warming while Arctic species like the ribbon seal slide toward extinction.”

While the agency’s finding states that there will be only slight declines in sea ice, its own data show that sea-ice extent in the seal’s northernmost breeding range in the Bering Sea will decline by 40 to 55 percent by mid-century during April and May. These are critical months when ribbon seals rely on sea ice as a safe nursery for giving birth and nursing their pups, and the loss of sea ice threatens the ribbon seal’s ability to successfully rear its young. As global warming continues, there will be an increasing number of years when sea ice disappears entirely by May, which will force seal pups to enter the icy Arctic waters before they are big and strong enough to survive. Even these dire projections for the future of the ribbon seal’s habitat are likely overly optimistic as current greenhouse gas emissions exceed even the worst-case scenarios in climate models.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s finding also ignored independent scientific studies showing that sea ice has already declined significantly throughout the ribbon seal’s range in recent decades, and that Arctic sea ice has become notably thinner. In the Russian Sea of Okhotsk, sea-ice extent has plummeted by more than 9 percent per decade since 1979 – similar to the rate of decline of the Arctic summer sea ice.

“NOAA’s denial of protection to the ribbon seal is reflective of how badly the scientific integrity of NOAA and other federal agencies have been damaged under the Bush administration,” said Melanie Duchin, global warming campaigner for Greenpeace in Anchorage. “Listing the ribbon seal under the ESA is an important litmus test for the Obama administration and will indicate whether they will depart from the Bush administration's denial of science and lack of action on global warming.”

At the same time that the federal government has denied protection to the ribbon seal, it is considering auctioning off the seal’s foraging grounds to oil companies to extract more fossil fuels that will further accelerate global warming and the melting of the Arctic. In February of 2008, the Department of the Interior leased 2.7 million acres of important ribbon seal habitat in the Chukchi Sea to oil companies. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is considering scheduling additional lease sales in ribbon seal habitat in the Chukchi and Bering Seas in the coming years.

The ribbon seal is not the only Arctic species suffering from global warming and oil development. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is required by law to make endangered species listing determinations for three other Arctic seals – the ringed, bearded, and spotted seals – by May 28, 2009. The polar bear was listed as a threatened species in May 2008, and the Pacific walrus is currently under review for listing as well.

A copy of today’s notice of intent to sue and other information on the ribbon seal is available at


The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild lands.

Greenpeace is an independent campaigning organization with 2.7 million members worldwide that uses peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions for the future.

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