Arctic habitat protection sought for ice seals

In an effort to protect critical habitat for two ice seal species, in the face of melting Arctic sea ice, the Center for Biological Diversity has served notice of its intent to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Both bearded and ringed seals, who are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, are vulnerable to oil spills and the impacts of climate change, said Emily Jeffers, a staff attorney with the center in Washington, D.C.

Bearded seals, known for their mustachioed appearance and elaborate courtship songs, give birth and nurse their pups on pack ice. Rapid loss of that ice jeopardizes their ability to rear their young and is lowering the abundance of the seals’ food on their shallow foraging grounds in the Bering Sea, the center said on March 14, in announcing a notice of its intent to sue.

Ringed seals, covered in dark spots surrounded by light grey rings, give birth in snow caves built on top of sea ice.

Global warming is reducing the snowpack, causing caves to collapse and leaving pups vulnerable to death by freezing or from predators.

The center first petitioned to protect both bearded and ringed seals in 2008, and the Obama administration listed both species as threatened in 2012.


Plants and animals with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to move toward recovery than species without it, a center study found, and designating critical habitat for seals does not affect subsistence harvest of the species by Alaska Natives, Jeffers said.