Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 12, 2018

Contact: Kristen Monsell, (914) 806-3467,  

Ninth Circuit Upholds Endangered Species Act Protections for Arctic Ringed Seals

ANCHORAGE, Alaska— The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit today upheld federal Endangered Species Act protection for ringed seals, Arctic ice seals threatened by climate change. Today’s ruling reverses a 2016 lower court decision that rejected the listing as speculative, finding that the listing is based on the best available science documenting the widespread loss of the sea-ice habitat the species needs to survive. 

The Center for Biological Diversity originally petitioned to list the species in 2008, and the National Marine Fisheries Service listed the species as threatened in 2012. The oil industry, the state of Alaska and others challenged the listing rule in federal court in Alaska, and the Center intervened to defend the listing.

“This major victory gives ringed seals vital protections in the face of climate change and melting sea ice,” said Kristen Monsell, a Center attorney who argued the case. “The decision underscores the recklessness of the Trump administration’s proposal to open up the Arctic Ocean to oil drilling. Ringed seals have a shot at survival thanks to the Endangered Species Act, but only if we rapidly reduce the greenhouse pollution destroying their habitat.”

Today’s decision from the 9th Circuit relies heavily on its 2016 decision upholding Endangered Species Act protections for bearded seals — another Arctic ice species threatened by climate change. The court found that, as with the bearded seal, climate change models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show that ringed seal habitat is diminishing as sea ice recedes and “reasonably suppor[t] the determination that a species reliant on sea ice likely would become endangered in the foreseeable future.”

Ringed seals give birth in snow caves built on top of the sea ice. Global warming is reducing the amount of snowpack there, causing caves to collapse and leaving pups vulnerable to death by freezing or from predators.

Endangered Species Act listing of ringed seals offers them increased protection against the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change, as well as oil and gas development. It also requires the federal government to designate critical habitat to protect the species most essential habitat areas. Listing of the seals does not affect subsistence harvest of the species by Alaska natives.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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