The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has proposed listing bearded and ringed seals as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. NOAA highlights the disappearance of arctic sea ice and reduced snow cover as the major threats to the species.
The bearded seal, also called the square flipper seal, is a species of earless seal that gets its name from its beard-like abundance of whiskers. They can weigh up to 750lbs, feed on a variety of prey items found on the ocean floor, and are unique in their subfamily for having two pairs of nipples. The ringed seal is the smallest and most common species of seal in the arctic, weighing from 110 – 150lbs. It is solitary, has silver rings encircling its dark back and sides, and is the primary source of food for polar bears. Both species have circum-polar distributions.
They also both require permanent areas of sea ice and snow in order to reproduce. But with the last bit of summer ice scheduled to disappear by 2050 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to escalate, there may soon be nowhere left for the seals to raise their pups.
A bearded seal pup. Photo by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
“Listing these animals as threatened underscores what we have been saying: the entire Arctic sea ice ecosystem is under threat – not just these animals, but whole food webs are threatened by the shrinkage of summer sea ice,” said Geoff York, WWF Arctic species expert. “The only effective action we can take to stop this destruction of the Arctic marine ecosystem is to reduce the emission of gases causing global warming. We hope that governments meeting for climate negotiations (earlier this month) in Cancun are paying attention.”