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Jennifer Kennedy

Arctic Seals Listed Under Endangered Species Act

By December 22, 2012

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Bearded Seal Image / NOAADue to the likelihood of a "significant decrease in sea ice later this century,"  NOAA has listed two species of seals in Arctic waters under the Endangered Species Act.  The designation was ordered for populations of ringed and bearded seals in the Arctic, including regions off northern Alaska and parts of Russia.

More specifically, the listing involves four subspecies of ringed seals (the Arctic, Okhostsk and Baltic subspecies will be listed as threatened and the Ladoga subspecies listed as endangered) and two distinct population segments of bearded seals (the Beringia and Okhotsk distinct population segments will be listed as threatened).

Both seal species rely on sea ice during molting.  Bearded seals breed, give birth and nurse on sea ice, and ringed seals shelter their pups in snow caves.

As stated in a NOAA press release, the listing will not result in immediate restrictions on human activities or subsistence hunting of the seals by Alaskan Natives.  Federal agencies will need to consult with NOAA Fisheries before issuing permits or funding that will affect one of the listed species.  NOAA's next step will be to work with multiple partners and gain public comment to determine if critical habitat should be designated for these species.

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Image: Bearded Seal, courtesy NOAA

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