SAVING BEARDED, RINGED AND SPOTTED SEALS
With their backward-turned rear flippers and blubbery bodies, Arctic pinnipeds like 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.
Climate change 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. 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 to haul out on, in 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. It missed that deadline, but after we sued, in 2012 the Fisheries Service at last finalized protections for the bearded and ringed seals. Two years later the agency proposed protecting more than 226 million acres of ringed seals' habitat — and in early 2021 it proposed protecting even more, as well as protecting vast areas for bearded seals too.
We also defend these seals from the oil industry, which never stops trying to drill in their pristine Arctic home. Thanks to intervention by the Center, federal courts rejected separate oil-industry challenges to protections for bearded seals and ringed seals. And in a huge victory for all Arctic species, a lawsuit by the Center and allies caused the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to reject the Trump administration’s approval of Hilcorp Alaska's Liberty offshore drilling island. For that project — which would've been the first offshore oil-drilling development in federal Arctic waters — the federal government had issued "take" permits that would let Hilcorp kill or seriously injure 14 whales and nine ice seals during construction.
The Center will never stop defending these seals and their habitat from Big Oil, climate change, fisheries, and every other human activity that threatenes them.