Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 24, 2016

Contact: Kristen Monsell, (510) 844-7137,

Appeals Court Reinstates Endangered Species Act Protections for Bearded Seals

Judges Cite Loss of Sea Ice, Predictions by ‘Overwhelming Majority of World’s Climate Scientists’

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— A federal appeals court today upheld the National Marine Fisheries Service’s decision to protect bearded seals in Alaska as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling reverses a 2014 lower court decision that rejected the listing as speculative, but the judges today said the listing is supported by sound science predicting steady loss of the Arctic sea ice bearded seals need to survive.

Bearded seal
Bearded seal pup photo courtesy NOAA. Photos are available for media use.

Today’s decision offers bearded seals the protections they truly need, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned to list the species in 2008 and intervened in the case to defend the listing against challenges from oil companies and the state of Alaska.

“This is a huge victory for bearded seals and shows the vital importance of the Endangered Species Act in protecting species threatened by climate change,” said Kristen Monsell, the Center attorney who argued the case. “This decision will give bearded seals a fighting chance while we work to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions melting their sea-ice habitat and keep dirty fossil fuels in the ground.”

The seals’ winter sea-ice habitat in the Bering and Okhotsk seas off Alaska and Russia is projected to decline by at least 40 percent by 2050, while summer sea ice across the Arctic is projected to largely disappear in the next 20 years. These seals also face threats from proposed offshore oil and gas development off Alaska, where an oil spill in icy waters would be impossible to clean up.

Today’s opinion found that the Fisheries Service, in listing the bearded seal, “adopted the position of the overwhelming majority of the world’s climate scientists” and rejected Alaska’s argument against the use of the best available climate science. 

Endangered Species Act listing of bearded seals offers them increased protection against the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change, as well as oil and gas development. Listing of the seals does not affect subsistence harvest of the species by Alaska natives.

“Bearded seals have a shot at survival thanks to the powerful protections of the Endangered Species Act, but only if we take swift and meaningful action to address climate change,” Monsell said. “If we don’t, amazing creatures like these whiskered ice seals and other animals living in the Arctic could be doomed to extinction.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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